Thursday, 30 July 2015

Value under pressure

A couple of crossbar hits at Goodwood today. But in a win-free zone, the best result was the non-runner. Depressing.

Frankie couldn't urge the waited-with Keble past the tough Gibeon in the opener, despite my screaming at the laptop. That was as near as the project came to a positive result. Tasleet was a runner-up too, but he was well beaten by the impressive Shalaa in the Richmond.

As Scotland was a non-runner in the Goodwood Cup, I backed my stated next best, Big Orange. 6-1 was a fair return, but it doesn't count for this project. No after timing here. So 6 points lost on the day, giving a net deficit of -10 for the Festival. Up against it now.

2.00 - 1m4f Glorious Stakes
Connecticut, not much value at 10/3, but in a seven runner field I can't make much of a case for the outsiders. Nancy From Nairobi's good showing here the other day franks this one's earlier form at Pontefract.

2.35 - 1m Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes
Aktabantay is much better than the form shown this season and is taken at 10/1 to recapture some of that quality now down in grade.

3.10 - 1m Golden Mile
You're Fired, 14/1. Two good runs either side of a poor showing in the Royal Hunt Cup, where he carried the burden of my money. Sticking with him again here. There's a big win in him somewhere.

3.45 - 5f King George Stakes
Move In Time, 13/2, admirably consistent and just favoured of the O'Meara pair.

4.20 - 6f Nursery handicap
Fashionable Spirit, 10/1. Surely this is the moment I snag my first Mark Johnston Glorious Goodwood winner this year.

4.55 - 7f Queen's Plate Stakes
Kiyoshi, 9/2. Good race this. Looks competitive. Track form of this Charles Hills inmate is the clincher.

5.30 - 1m3f handicap
Shell Bay, 14-1. Improving quickly, and jockey takes off 5lb. Tough closer though.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Glorious value anyone?

The second day of my Glorious Goodwood value project was a pretty poor effort. 8 points staked and no winners, wiping out yesterday’s 4 points profit to leave a net 4 point deficit.

On a difficult day to oppose favourites in the big races, I got two out of three big calls wrong. Highland Reel eventually managed to put his best foot forward in the Gordon and Solow did not have an off day at all in the Sussex.  Though my selection Arod put in a mighty performance in failing to hold the class French horse. Backing against King Of Rooks in the Molecomb was a good shout and maybe my selection Lathom was unlucky, getting smashed up when making his move.

And that was it. Nothing else came close.

Day 3 on the Downs will be a pivotal one for the project. Let’s see what we can find to put us back on the right road.

2.05 – 1m2f handicap
These fields aren’t getting any easier... Another impossible handicap, this time for 3yos.  Even from a cursory glance, many have claims in contradictory and interwoven form lines. Johnston is four from the last nine in this. However, a chance is taken with Keble from John Gosden’s yard who has a c&d result and a decent handicap debut. 7/1.

2.35 – 6f Richmond Stakes
Shalaa looks the form pick, but I’m persuaded to look elsewhere because of the weight he has to concede and the tendency to flinch from the whip. Tasleet’s Rose Bowl win at Newbury was visually impressive and he gets the vote. 7/1.

3.10 – 2m Goodwood Cup
I’m passing over Trip To Paris who is giving weight away and was possibly flattered by the easy run he got up the rail in the Ascot Gold Cup. Scotland from the strong Andrew Balding yard is the fancy here, on the assumption he will be ridden closer to the pace over this shorter trip. 10/1. Big Orange stepping up in distance is feared the most.

3.45 – 1m6f Lillie Langtry Stakes
Lustrous has some strong Ribblesdale and Yorkshire Oaks from to bring to the table in a race with some inconsistent form lines. Lustrous too has questions to answer on the track, but the step up in trip should help. 8/1.

4.20 – 7f Maiden fillies stakes
These nurseries are so hard. Sunset Dream is the call on the basis of the trainer’s form in this race and in the field. Of his three runners, he looks like the preferred choice. 9/1.

4.55 – 7f Nursery handicap
My Amigo won up at Newcastle in handy style and holds a few fancy entries for such a conservative stable, so the 14/1 looks attractive in a relatively open looking heat.

5.30 – 5f Tatler Stakes handicap
A chance is taken with Roudee at 14/1 who is returned to 5f where the majority of his best form has been seen.

I can’t round off this blog without paying tribute to Sir Peter O’Sullevan who died today. One of the great commentators. More than that, a brilliant advocate for and supporter of this beautiful sport. A man who’s humility, generosity and wisdom will be missed.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

More Glorious value

The Festival got off to a good start yesterday, remarkably unhindered by its new monicker of the ‘Qatar Goodwood Festival’ as part of a whopping £4.5m 10-year sponsorship deal.

The blog got two things right and many more things wrong. In my favour, the weather held up nicely and the winning times suggested the ground was near enough good going; and secondly, with copper-bottomed reliability, Mark Johnston’s stable landed the big handicap. On the other hand, I backed his other one in that race who remains unsighted still; and then the one race in which I had very little faith turned up my only winner.

So a small profit of +4 points from 7 points staked. Inland Sea at a backed price of 10/1 accounts entirely for the profit. Had the SP of 4/1 been taken I would be looking at a small loss.

Ibn Malik ran with great credit for 2nd in the Vintage Stakes, without ever getting to the winner. Volunteer Point was a bit unlucky in running. The rest disappeared with out a trace.

Star of the day was Toormore, who made up for his odds-on defeat last year with a commanding performance. He won the Vintage Stakes here two years ago when ridden by Richard Hughes. Now owned by Godolphin and ridden by James Doyle, it leaves Hughes searching for another Goodwood winner before he departs the saddle forever at the end of this meeting.

Wednesday’s card is one of the best of the week. Surely I can grasp a few straws and turn this into a more substantial profit. Surely.

2.00 – 2m5f Goodwood Stakes handicap
A puzzle of a staying handicap to kick off day 2. The market is headed by the upwardly mobile profiles of Air Squadron, Wordiness, William Of Orange and Gavlar who are all unproven at this marathon trip. Sticking with a simple approach, and eschewing my usual instincts to go with the progressives, I’m going to war with Teak, who is a course and distance winner, has run well this season (despite an odd mid-season return to hurdles) and will like the drying ground. 12/1.

2.35 – 1m4f Gordon Stakes
The stand out piece of form is Highland Reel’s 2nd behind New Bay in Chantilly. But that was over a shorter trip and it is the best this beast has produced by some way. So I’m happy to resist the 2/1 on offer for the Ballydoyle hope. Disegno is looking for a step up in trip and was better than his 4th in the Tercentenary at Ascot last month when baulked at least three times. Ground needs to dry up a fraction more for him to be at his best, but I’m happy with 6/1.   

3.10 – 1m Sussex Stakes
Becomes the 6th million pound race in the British flat calendar, following the cash injection by Qatar. I hope the deal was more transparent that the awarding of the 2022 World Cup. The market looks transparent here with only short odds available about Solow after his handsome win in the Queen Anne at Ascot. The latest in a string of top notch results. I won’t be taking that skinny offering though, on principal. Arod also looked quality at Ascot. That was in a Group 2, but he’s still improving and at 7/1 I’ll take him in case Solow has an off-day. 

3.45 – 5f Molcomb Stakes
In terms of a betting heat, this is a little like the Sussex Stakes. King Of Rooks deserves to be a short priced favourite after his Sandown debut win. However, though he was undoubtedly made too much use of at Ascot, the suspicion remains that he folded a fraction too quickly. Ridden with more restraint he could be hard to beat, but I’m taking a chance with Lathom from the Richard Fahey yard. The horse is on the upgrade (if the Windsor Castle form is discarded where he was swamped) and 15/2 is good enough for me.

4.20 – 6f maiden fillies stakes
Very little to go on. Tentative support for Love On The Rocks, saddled by Charles Hills who remains in good form. This one ran well on debut and is now tried in a hood to elicit a bit more concentration. 10/1.

4.55 – 1m1f Veuve Cliquot Fillies Stakes handicap  
Edge Of Heaven is 3 from 3 this season at around this trip. All ground seems to come alike and at 10/1 has a good chance of being in the mix in an open heat.

5.30 – 7f Nat West Stakes handicap

Amanda Perrett is trying everything with Saucy Minx: blinkers, hood and jockey claiming 5lb. But it may be the return to Goodwood that has most effect. 3 from 7 here, but much less effective elsewhere. Likes this trip and ground should be no problem. 16/1 e-w. 

Glorious value

With Ascot’s lamentable calling of the ground ‘soft’ for last Saturday’s King George fresh in my mind, I am highly sceptical that tomorrow’s races will be run on anything like the currently described ‘good to soft’ going. A cambering track twisting out of the Downs, Goodwood is free draining at the best of times. With no rain in the forecast and a drying stiff south-westerly funnelling over Trundle Hill, I am confident good ground horses will be to the fore.

Thus armed with a Met Office forecast, a well-spring of high Summer optimism and nothing else (bar, of course, the innate understanding that Mark Johnston must be backed in handicaps at all costs), I’m anticipating one of the finest spectacles in the horse racing calendar.

Let’s see how much optimism remains after this lot get smashed up in the switchbacks.

2.00 - 1m2f handicap
The job is apparently made simple by kicking off the Festival with a Mark Johnston home banker. He’s won this four times in the last ten years. Trouble is I don’t fancy any of the three he fields here. Senockian Star would make the most appeal, but I think he needs genuinely quick ground, which he won’t get here. I’m eschewing my own advice at the very first opportunity. Instead Master The World is the selection, piloted by Richard Hughes who is a master of his own around this track. 12/1 win. 

2.35 – 7f Vintage Stakes
Again I’m passing over the Johnston entries and siding with unexposed Ibn Malik from the red hot yard of Charles Hills. Birchwood is the danger.  6/1 win.

3.10 – 7f Lennox Stakes
I’ve always like this specialist 7f race, but only found the winner once with last year’s Es Que Love. At first glance, this seems like a poor betting heat with Toormore and Dutch Connection heading the market. They have strong claims, but I’m hoping that Ascription at 6-y-o is still improving. He’s missed a lot of racing, so fits the old ‘not many miles on the clock’ adage. Ran well at Haydock over this trip in a Gp 3 in May. 8/1 is a more than fair price on that evidence.

3.45 – 1m6f Summer Stakes
Very tough heat to call. Plenty come with decent form and progressive profiles. So this now, surely, the time to turn to the Master of Middleham. I love the front running attitude of Notarised. Although he has a tough draw and a 7lb hike to overcome, I’ll take a chance with the Johnston inmate at around 8/1.

4.20 – 5f handicap
Top Boy has been running consistently this season and has some reasonable, all important track form on his dance card (as Graham Cunningham insists on saying. What actually is a dance card?) The draw is fine and turf conditions seems to come all the same to him, though the worry is that his best form is on the sand. Taking a chance at 10/1.

4.55 – 6f maiden stakes
Into the realms of mystery. If the day’s selections have not run well, I really don’t want to be relying on this affair to bale me out. Hannon has 5 of the 14 runners. I’m siding with one of them (surely his 2-y-o stats don’t lie). Inland Sea was the archetypal ‘unlucky 4th  on debut and I feel suckered in to a minimum stakes wager on the basis of that promise. A dangerous 10/1.

5.30 – 1m Turf Club Stakes handicap
A 19 runner handicap to bring the curtain down on Day 1. I like the look of Volunteer Point’s upwardly mobile form and she has claims based on a previous good-ish track and distance effort. This is the right sort of level for her and the ground should be fine. 11/1 is fair.

Nothing to do now but watch the skies and count the winners.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


Well, that’s an achievement ticked off the bucket list: being cheered across the winning post in front of packed stands at the end of a race. Only we were going the wrong way up Brighton’s helter-skelter track. And there were no horses in sight. The race was an internal competition with my ailing body and not with my fellow participants. 

Crossing the line was an emotional moment. More so than I had anticipated. Mrs A had spotted us traversing the track from some way out and was waving furiously. It was wonderful to have someone there to welcome us home. We had walked from London to Brighton completing 102.9km in 27 hours and it was bloody hard work!

The adventure had begun early the previous morning at 5.30am when my phone alarm vibrated its digital jangle. The bags had been packed the previous evening and all that remained was to don the walking gear bought in a job lot from a discount internet store. Today, Gok, I would be wearing Mountain Warehouse.  

The training was in the can. At least as much as it ever could be.  Avid readers will recall the earlier preparations and the good idea from team leader Bryn that now seemed like insanity.

Mrs A, support crew for the duration, whisked me down to Ben’s where we arrived at about the same time as Ad and Bryn. There was time for a nervous cup of tea and conversations about kit and medications that just served to spook us more. Ad and I compared notes on the underwhelming support from our offspring. “It’s just walking”, had said Daughter No2, “you’re always walking!”

The registration hall at Kempton raceourse was buzzing. Good humoured BHF staff kitted us out with maps, t-shirts, head torches and first aid packs. Mrs A then departed home in order to rest up before meeting us that evening for some intensive moral and practical support.

 We learned later that about 500 had left in three waves from Kempton. The initial procession through suburbia along narrow pavements soon gave way to an exceedingly pleasant stroll by the river. Ad met his new girlfriend somewhere near Twickenham and she joined us for a few miles.

The only incident I can recall from those innocent early steps is when Ben lobbed a spent apple to feed a horse in a field and accidently hit its hindquarters. The steed quivered from the tail right up to the mane. This moment was duly milked for the rest of the trip with laboured humour. Every time we saw a horse, the cry went up, “Run, horsey. Ben’s packing fruit and he’s not afraid to use it”. Or some such.

At about 10.30am, we were overtaken by some determined trekkers whom we realised were the lead posse of the 9.00am starters. We had left half an hour before them, so they were beasting the course. But not as much as some others. Much, much later, as we were struggling over the first real inclines of the walk in deepest Sussex, a steward told us that the first people to complete the course had run most of it to finish at about 11.30pm.

There were some vaguely amusing scenes at Check Point 1, the Anchor pub in Pyrford. Saturday lunchtime diners found their beer garden festooned with hundreds of red-shirted walkers bearing foot spray, sun cream and lucozade.

I have to say that the support and advice from stewards, staff and paramedics was absolutely wonderful throughout the event. Whether this was logistical information, motivational words or medical intervention. Brilliant.

In the next phase, Ben broke out his stonking eight-round quiz with jokers, wildcards and additional rules made up on the hoof. Fantastic. It sustained us through a lot of miles.

I knew Bryn would win. I just knew. Many years ago he secured a pub quiz victory for us by unearthing obscure facts about the personal habits of Homer Simpson. He has quality form.

I let myself down by confusing Derby winner Ruler Of The World with Master Of The Universe (I was in the right ball park!) and describing everything about the ownership, trainer, colours, price and form (including a Catterick prep victory) of Grand National winner Ballabrigs, without actually recalling his name! I blame muscle fatigue.

I think Ad’s concentration slipped when he was responding to the stream of text messages from his new girlfriend.

The trek began to feel real after Checkpoint 2 at 32km (20 miles or so). We’d all walked further in training, but not in such hot weather. The distance from the first to the second checkpoint was more than 15km and we had probably made a mistake by not stopping in between. No damage done, but we were more tired than expected at that point.

Thoughts turned to sustaining our physical durability. I’d nicked a clear plastic Ted Baker medicine bag from Daughter No 2 and considered it to be the finest example in our group. She had used it to house her collection of 20-odd lip balms assembled over many years. Ironically this was the one thing I forgot to pack and I suffered chapped lips deep into the trek.

Hardly a medical emergency I’ll grant you. The aching joints were more of a priority. It was checkpoint 5 before I resorted to a paracetomol/ibuprofen cocktail. Combined with a strong coffee that Mrs A was queuing for before we even emerged into the dark car park of the industrial estate, it provided a temporary boost. I felt much stronger on the subsequent 11km stretch. That checkpoint, 56km in, was the first where we saw real casualties. People obviously packing sweaty kit and broken frames into support vehicles for an early escape.

Apparently the boiler in the solitary drinks van had been on the blink for much of the evening. It had only just started working again before our arrival. The absence of hot drinks may well have been the final straw for many. Apart from the loos and the paramedics, there was nothing else here.

On leaving, the stewards asked if a lone female walker could join us. And so four became five as Cherry accompanied us through the night and early morning stages. Cherry’s opening remark was “You won’t murder me will you?” I do like a woman with realistic benchmarks! Apparently Cherry had been determined to walk alone, but the stewards intervened when she said she didn’t really like the dark! Just another example of how sensibly and responsibly this event was run. No one was put at any unnecessary risk.

One walker from Yorkshire put this to the test when he got smashed by a branch after only 7km. He was avoiding a bike coming the other way and simultaneously unsighted by the sun. The paramedics said the cut needed to be glued and he should end the walk there. We saw him at about the 25km marker when he was telling us this story. “I’m not stopping” he said. “I’m from Donny!” He was allowed to continue as long as he got the all clear from the paramedics at every checkpont. He finished before us.

There was a foot spa on offer at one of the checkpoints. Tempted, but I didn’t partake. My feet would probably have benefitted immeasurably from such a treat, but I felt I couldn’t inflict them on a paramedic who, though having solid training under their belt, would have not have been equipped for such an ordeal.  In fact I was happy with my foot regime: airing and glide blister barrier application at every stop, together with four sock changes. I survived largely contusion and friction free for the duration.

Ad took a different approach. He had a look and a poke at his plates at stop 4 and was so appalled by what he discovered that he kept them wrapped up for the rest of the trip tighter than a Chinese foot-binding ritual.

Talking to Cherry later, she said that the foot spa was actually a bit of an exaggeration. It was actually a washing up bowl of warm water. There was still an extensive queue for it though!

At about that point, Ben’s partner rang to say that she’d had a great time at a 40th birthday party, had danced all night and that “her feet were killing her”. “Oh really?” seemed to be the collective response.

We lived by checkpoints. Time spent resting and recuperating there grew at the same rate as the kilometres seemed to stretch out exponentially when we were closing in on one. This was a mental battle as much as a physical one. We all seemed to go through good and bad stretches. My worst moments were in three of the four middle sections.

Meeting Mrs A for the first rendezvous at checkpoint 4 was uplifting, but I was in a poor state then. She said that she had seen people coming in crying and limping. This was not a competitive event in a race sense, but there is no doubting that those little nuggets provide a personal boost.

Tired and emotional, I was concerned that my aching knee would become a massive burden with still a logic-defying 57km to go.  However, Ben’s diversion to M&S for sausage rolls and iced buns was a spirit lifter. The tomato soup that Mrs A queued for was a life saver. The elasticated knee brace that I resorted to was a joint restorer.  We cruised through the 50km marker on that next stretch much restored and invigorated.

 My worst moment, however was at dawn. Feeling limp and pathetic outside the Cat and Canary pub checkpoint, my head was spinning and I thought I would pass out. I had a lay down and soon felt recovered.

This wobble may or may not have been the result of the significant toilet stop I had just made. Anyone of a nervous disposition, please avert your eyes from the following graphic description. I feel I need to share this.  The porta-cubicles would remind you of Glastonbury – happening on the same weekend – but you don’t get freshly talc-ed loo seats on Worthy Farm. The evacuation I performed here was colossal. It was coiled in the pan like a giant Cumberland sausage and as thick as your wrist. Is there any wonder I felt faint afterwards? That’s what you get if you eat a dozen protein enhanced oat bars in 24 hours. If I never see a flapjack again it will be too soon.

Conversely, others had dodgy moments at other spots. Ad had a woozy spell at our third checkpoint on the disused railway station of Bramley that forms part of the Downs Link walk. The afternoon had been stiflingly hot with little breeze and we had been exposed for a lot of it next to the River Wey. A strong coffee and a huge chocolate muffin seemed to sort him out though. Bryn and I went for the banana muffin option and were rewarded with a calorific sticky toffee gloop in the middle. We both felt enervated after that. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

Bryn struggled with aches a bit later on and developed an amusing rolling gait that John Wayne would have been happy to claim as his own. Ben, like the rest of us, was up and down. Despite having a bag of medicines and treatments that put my plastic envelope to shame, he still begged and borrowed from others. Soothing foot spray from Bryn, slow-release Ibuprofen from me and - after a literal, pretty scary, sleep-walking moment up on the Downs - a caffeine tablet from Cherry. “It’s legal!” she said.

The night time sections were surreal. Walking though the beautiful Sussex countryside but unable to see any of it, guided only by shifting pools of light about three feet across. It was quiet, except for the shuffle of feet, some murmured conversations and the bing of Ad’s phone bearing more texts from his new girlfriend.

Cherry had no qualms about undertaking this trip alone. I wasn’t sure if she was just a little bit bonkers or stark-staring insane. She said she had practised a bit on her bike. I couldn’t quite see the immediate logic.

“Six hours into London!” she declared.

“That’s excellent. Brighton to London?”

“No, not Brighton!” Even in the dark I could tell she was looking at me like I was from Planet Zog. “I live in Ealing. I got a bit lost along the river…”

Before the walk I had felt sure that I could have done the walk solo, if needed. However, during that long morning, I became far from certain. Team work had been a huge part of our effort. I was even more full of admiration for Cherry and the other solo trekkers like her who had smashed up the course in a blazing show of self-determination.

I was deeply impressed with our own performance though. The drop out rate for this event is approaching 50%. It’s hard to explain the unrelenting assault on the body by strains, twists and aches in places you didn’t know existed, compounded by mental and physical fatigue. We were so far out of our comfort zones we needed sat navs.

By checkpoint 8 at 86km, we knew we would do this. We had the South Downs peaks to negotiate, which were tough so late in the walk. But the coast was on the other side and we dared to think about the finish line. Meeting Andy and Sam for breakfast at Checkpoint 9 in Hove was another lift. And then it was just the walk along the seafront and a totally unnecessary, vindictively cruel 1-in-3 gradient ascent up to the racecourse.

After much hugging and back slapping, we went for refreshment in the restaurant. Mrs A, who had been amazing throughout the expedition said “Pints all round then?”

“Sounds good” I replied.

“Not for me.” said Bryn.

“No thanks.” said Ben.

“I’m ok.” said Ad.

“Oh, OK, I’ll just have a coke thanks.” Didn’t want to spoil the team ethic at that late stage. 

We all looked reasonably fresh in the team photo taken just before we departed for home. That’s Ad on the left, taking a phone call from his new girlfriend.

Between us, we’ve raised over £2.5k for the British Heat Foundation. If anyone would like to donate, my Just Giving page is here. Bryn’s thoughts had already turned to next year’s challenge. A sleepathon would be good…