What a tremendous time at Aintree last week where we nailed 4 runners in the top 6 of the Grand National including picking the winner Pineau De Re out of a 40 strong field. Forward a week and it is another National, the Scottish,which takes centre stage from a national hunt perspective, with a high class Newbury card attempting to get the flat race enthusiasts into the swing of the new season. I have a few views on some of the major races and hope we can pick out a couple more big priced winners!
Scottish National – 3.50 Ayr
It was the Pertemps at Cheltenham that pointed me towards Pineau De Re and I’m going to the well again in search of Scottish National success. Trustan Times was a neck behind the Grand National winner and I like his chances of stepping up in trip over fences. He is very well handicapped and even though Tidal Bay remains in the race (if he had defected the selection would be very well in) which means he runs from a few pounds out of the handicap I still think he is underestimated on his hurdles form and looks good each way value at 14/1. I had my fingers burnt with Godsmejudge ante post for the Grand National but he owes me nothing after winning this last year and it is interesting than Alan King suggested he couldn’t get him right for Aintree but he is fine for Ayr and goes into the race pretty well supported Ante Post. Past winners do well when reappearing here and at 18/1 is also each way value, if indeed he is fit and ready to go.
Spring Cup – 3.30 Newbury
The big field handicap sees some of the principles from the Lincoln doing battle once more. Of those that did run at Doncaster Garbrials Kaka is the one I am going to give another go. Sweet Lightning was the most eye-catching, running on well from the back however Gabrials Kaka travelled very sweetly and just got a bit tired on his seasonal reappearance. Jamie Spencer is now on board and at 14/1 he has excellent claims. My main fancy though is a horse who was balloted out of the Lincoln. Richard Hannon targeted Brownsea Brink firmly at that race and whilst it was disappointing to miss out, the fact he swerved the consolation race subsequently won by Brae Hill (tipped up here at 14/1) illustrates that this was always a back up plan off a very nice mark and around 12-1. Ryan Moore is jocked up and to be on two horses trained by Hannon and Fahey with Moore and Spencer in the saddle at double figure odds seems a healthy hand to hold.
As an audacious attempt to swindle over the bookies I have put all 4 horses in each way doubles. Trustan Times / Godsmejudge / Brownsea Brink / Garbrials Kaka. Bet 365 are paying 1/4 for the first 5 places on both races to ensure the half an hour between 3.30 and 4.00 is the most exciting of the weekend!
The state of Georgia was home to over 50 plantations, on which, the emblematic hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ was sung by the helpless voices of enslaved Africans to provide solace to their nightmare. It would be fitting should a namesake of that powerful song, who himself was born in the same continent as those captured, return to the very state of their subjugation and win at Augusta National this week.
The history of Augusta derives not from slavery but from a horticulture enthusiast whose interest in plant biology led him to planting a 365 acre nursery where we now see the great golf course used annually at the US Masters. All the holes are named after flowers in a tip of the cap to the wide variety of species introduced by the Belgian plant lover Louis Berckmans ,so I suppose if Nicolas Colsaerts were ever to win the green jacket then history would have gone full circle, for now though lets start with Grace…a potentially Amazing Grace.
When organising the portfolio for the Masters this year I wanted a good mix. Some with course form, some with current form, some good prices and bit of value. This inevitably made me leave alone the market principles. I happen to think Rory can go well this year however he has never made a top 10 here yet so he is opposable at 12/1. Adam Scott has rock solid claims and it is difficult to pick holes in his chances. People rarely win back to back isn’t really a reason to take him on but I will. Jason Day, even at 18/1, I was going to get stuck into due to his tremendous course form but his injury has concerned me. Of the others I have my usual Duffner / Kuchar / Mahan quandary. I want to back one of them, not sure which one, end up backing them all. This year I am going to leave it until after the first round. Kuchar is on form but is now a bit short. Mahan would probably be the one I would pick because he has regularly been in the last group at majors in the last few years and I have a feeling his time is coming but am willing to leave it a while to see if my hunch is right. Those we do need to get on side are:
1. Branden Grace
My first selection is a player who I backed last year on his debut at the course at meagre odds compared to what is on offer this year. At the start of the week he was 350/1 and is still available in some places at 300/1 now and I can’t really understand why. Last year he blew his chance with a 6 over par 78 on day 1. But he finished really well with 3 rounds under par to make the cut and finish in a tie for 18th, a very pleasing debut. My worry would be his propensity to make bogeys. He made 4 in rounds 2 and 3 last year but 9 birdies and an eagle illustrate he has the game around here. A young, exciting South African with 6 wins to his name already and a top 20 finish last year cannot be a 300/1 chance!
2. Marc Leishman
Australians are having a superb year epitomised but Matt Jones win last week at Hosuton and two high on the short list are Adam Scott and Jason Day. However at the prices I can’t back Jason Day until I am sure his injuries are fine. He has remained sketchy about his thumb whilst insisting his back is fine. He normally takes a while to warm up so his skinny odds will probably be around until half way anyway. Adam Scott has few chinks in his armour and I think he is the one they all have to beat. However at 12/1 is not my cup of tea and therefore I am drawn to Marc Leishman. A very eye-catching 4th last year where he took a while to be fully shaken off on the back nine and he is worth at bet at around 100/1. I backed him ante post at 150/1 a few months ago when he looked like he might be coming into form nicely. However he has lost his way a little and I wouldn’t want to take much less than 100/1 but a repeat of last years performance would see him near the top 10 again.
3. Harris English
Every year the Masters throws up a ‘story’. This years one is the presence of a larger than normal sized cluster of rookies – 24 players making their first ever appearance. Unless you are called Fuzzy (not many people are) then it is unlikely yo will win on debut but this year presents a unique opportunity. No Tiger for a start. Add to the mix injury doubts about other favourites Mickelson, D.Johnson and Day and the fact that taking Matt Kuchar out, there aren’t many others arriving in red hot form a rookie could be well in this year. No one has impressed me more than Harris English this season and given he went to the college in Georgia he is no stranger to Augusta national. Brimming with confidence after a great start to the year which reads; 13 tournaments, 13 cuts made, 6 top tens and 1 win. Add to all of that a hole in one on the 12th in a practice round this week which will only help him approach this test with a smile on his face. At 66/1 he too could be value.
4. Lee Westwood
I have called Westwood a few names in the past and I do cringe when his putting stroke gets jerky however you cannot knock his Augusta record. In the last 4 visits he has been 8th, 3rd, 11th and 2nd. In his career he has had 4 top ten and 7 top 25 finishes here as well as a total of 16 top ten finishes at majors and he is an unbelievable 50/1! In my opinion his has one of his best ever shots at this. He has won a staggering 39 tournaments worldwide and is obviously desperate to a win major. At 50/1 he must be the best value each way punt in the whole tournament. I have never backed Westy in my life (normally he isn’t much value) but have made him my main bet at Augusta because this could just be his year!
First Round Leader - Having had a chat with a friend I was reminded about how well Bernhard Langer went for a long time last year. He still plays regularly and wins regularly on the Seniors tour and given how well Fred Couples has gone here in the recent years I am going to throw a fluffy german mullet shaped dart at the first round leader market and back Langer at 250/1
Mark Lawrenson commented recently that with Liverpool’s attacking style they were fast becoming everyones second team! Ludicrous.
I obviously can’t talk for the entire nation of football supporters but there can’t be many people who in two years have gone from “Why are they wearing those T-Shirts” to “Wow they play great football, who cares if their centre forward bites opponents”. My opinion is I am impressed with Brendan Rogers. He is a smart and attacking young manager who has illustrated in double quick time the importance of a good manager in the premiership. Dalgleish, a manager with less tactical nous, had a similar squad and was full of excuses and inconsistencies, hiding behind a ‘we are Liverpool, we stick together’ mantra, to keep the fans on side. Rogers has kept the fans on side by winning matches and playing good football. He has stuck by his players and brought the best out of them on the training ground and carried it forward to match day in the way seen by the top managers in Europe. I admire Liverpool’s progress this year and in Suarez they have a player who is world class and I mean really world class not Wayne Rooney world class. In 104 games he has scored 67 goals, created nearly 30 and won over 15 penalties. When people say why can’t England recreate the Liverpool style of play with Henderson, Gerrard, Stirling and Sturridge I think the answer lies at the gifted feet of the buck toothed Uruguayan, or more pertinently his absence of a British passport. People don’t admire the superiority complex Liverpool fans have and I was particularly shocked by the way they conducted themselves throughout the Suarez sagas. Subsequently it makes them very difficult to “like” from a footballing perspective. Factor in that they have spent 310 million pounds over the past 5 years means they aren’t your typical second team. Especially when cross city rivals Everton combine good football and some excellent results off a comparable 63 million.
If anyone is on the look out for a second team, though the notion is a weird one; you spend so much time and effort following one, why do you need another? But if you were that way inclined surely look no further than Southampton (who themselves have only spent 75 million). As the Saints go marching on they do so with flair, enthusiasm, passion and whilst there football is continental there is still a Britishness to their style. This is inevitable given their squad of 23 is made up of over 50% English and Northern Irish players and 8 of their starting line up that demolished Newcastle fit the same profile. I am sincerely hoping that others can take a leaf out of Southampton and indeed Liverpool’s book. Young, thoughtful, attacking managers who have flooded their teams full of British players. They have trusted that the talent they have seen in their academies will perform on the big stage or they have brought in young English players to form a nucleus for success. Either way it is refreshing and in all honesty the only way the national team will get back to being prosperous. Top quality English players, playing and performing week in, week out. Not sat on Man City’s bench on big wages.
“Jack do you want to go on holiday in the summer?”
“Good idea Scott I hear Brazil is nice in June”
“Nah mate not my cup of tea”
Everyone discusses what we need to make the England team great again and there are still some hard roads ahead but we could do a lot worse than follow two main principles;
Players – Be hungry and passionate, always looking to develop. This may sometimes mean being realistic and humble.
Clubs – Stop saying our youth academies don’t produce players or good enough players. Some clubs are incredibly successful. No excuses make the academies better at developing young talent.
Then maybe my second team might win a world cup!
With 5 days to go to the greatest steeplechase on earth and most firms non runner no bet it seems a logical time to run through some selections for the Grand National. Over the past few years the race has changed dramatically and it is widely accepted that a different type of horse is needed to win the Aintree showpiece. I heard Tony McCoy speak the other day and he emphasised that it used to be all about how well your horse jumps the fences. “You needed something that jumps well and stays all day, however now the focus is on pace” he summated. By pace he means race pace, being in a handy position and travelling well, near the front without having to make up too much ground at the end, basic flat speed. We are now getting some very high class horses in the Grand National; Synchronised a few years ago and Long Run this year can boast a gold cup victory to their name. Neptune Collonges victory two years ago was a victory under a very heavy weight (4th top) and one for an older horse (11 yrs old) and Auroras Encore confirmed that age stat a year later (also 11). In the past this was the ultimate trends race and subsequently wasn’t actually as big a mine field as a 40 runner handicap might be. Now though it is very tough. Do you opt for classy Gold Cup / Hennessy winners or find those horses under the handicappers radar. How far do we look to previously useful trial races such as the Eider chase and what relevance does previous national (English / Welsh / Irish or Scottish) form have?
I have outlined 6 horses to follow for the National in an attempt to scattergun my way to picking the winner out at a nice price.
6.Pineau De Re
This fella is a bit of a shot in the dark really but shortly after his fast finishing third behind Fingal Bay in the Pertemps I got on at 50/1. Dr Richard Newland, who’s a shrewd handler, thinks he has a real live chance for this race and ultimately this selection is more based on a hunch than form (though he did win an Ulster National). He actually fell when attempting these fences last time but they aren’t as daunting as they used to be and the good doctor has quoted that jumping is actually his strength and he wouldn’t be worried about the fences at all. He has been well supported in the ante post market but is still available at 33/1 with sporting bet so all is not lost on the value front.
5. Double Seven
Now is the time to back this JP Mcmanus inmate for several reasons but not least because when Tony McCoy chooses to ride him his price will be slashed from the current best priced 33/1 to at least half that on the day. He is a little unlike some of the other selections who is a progressive 8 year old who chalked up 5 wins on the spin last season in Ireland. His trainer won this in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde so he knows how to get one spot on and he still looks good each way value at a good price, especially if the ground remains good.
Now it is certain Alvarado is going to feature on Saturday it seems a good time to have bet on him. Firstly because of his jockey. Paul Moloney’s recent form figures in this race read 24434 so he is regularly at the business end on the run in. Cappa Bleu who was responsible for the most recent places is not back this year but his owners have Alvarado instead. He is in off a featherweight and is clearly well handicapped based on his Cheltenham win in November on good ground in a group 3 race. Some of the notable horses behind him that day were Knockara Beau, Monbeg Dude (who is half Alvarado’s odds for this), Spring Heeled (who won at the Festival), Goulanes (Midlands National winner) Godsmejudge (Scottish national winner) and Tour De Champs. It was clearly a hot race and that form looks exceptional given his light weight and current 40/1 price.
3. Chance Du Roy
It was the Becher Chase in December when Pineau De Re suffered his demise at the hands of the national fences and the winner of that race is another to carry my hopes. Chance de Roy lowered Baby Run’s colours that day as well as having On his own well beaten in behind and that success over the national fences coupled with the fantastic season Phillip Hobbs has had this year put this 10 year old firmly on my radar. I am keen to side with horses who have proven form at the Aintree festival and Chance de Roy came second to course specialist Always Waining in the Topham 2 years ago so at 40/1 he is also a good each way proposition.
2. Battle Group
If its course form you are looking for then look no further. Battle Group must be related to Red Rum his Aintree record is that good. 11201 is pretty solid course form on the face of it but when you consider in the last 2 years at the Aintree Grand National meeting he has won twice and finished second once it is even more remarkable. There is a saying in racing when a horse wins easily “he looks like he could go round again”. Well last year that is exactly what Battle group did. On Thursday he won a grade 3 hurdle race over 3 miles 1 furlong by 10 lengths. On the saturday he came back and won a listed chase race over the same distance by 16 lengths! That was a remarkable effort and even more impressive when you consider the type of horses he destroyed in those races; Double Ross, Cantlow, Johns Spirit, Duke of Lucca, Tour Des Champs, Ericht, Jetson the list goes on. He is 50/1 which to me seems a no brainer however there is a reason for his price. Last season he was trained by Kevin Bishop winning all 3 starts having switched hands from David Pipe. Now he is trained by Jonny Farrelly, who I don’t know much about, and his form this season reads PRP – in racing, letters are always less encouraging than numbers! He is clearly a bit of a monkey illustrated by his keen racing style and his refusal to race at Newbury. He has been eased in the handicap and the ground this winter has been appalling his runs could be excused. So…back to Aintree, where he thrives, he could be worth chancing especially as he has ran too bad to be true this year and hopefully his trainer has always had this in mind (I haven’t mention the word plot but I think I’m about to). Furthermore he has good flat speed illustrated by his win over hurdles. If I haven’t persuaded you by now he is owned by a group called the Jolly Boys Outing syndicate. Yep. Get on!
If any horse has been overlooked in the betting it is Walkon and it would be a very appropriate winner given the lofty position of the Grand National’s home city in the premier league. Alan King is a trainer who is back to form after a virus shut his stable in the Winter. He had some excellent runners at Cheltenham and his 64-1 double at Ascot on Sunday indicates his horses are flying. Last year Walkon pulled 5 lengths clear of the Topham field with Triolo D’Alene, losing by 3/4 of a length. That looks good form since Triolo’s Hennesy romp. Walkon is in receipt of 6 pounds from Triolo this time around and thats plenty over 4 miles to reverse that Topham form. He is quite classy and although he fell in October when favourite for the group 2 Old Roan a line can be drawn though his recent defeat in bottomless ground in a group 2 at Newbury. These two defeats have nicely preserved his handicap mark and as such he remains fantastic each way value at 50/1. People will say he has been out of form but Alan King has taken Godsmejudge out because he “couldn’t get him right” which is a backhanded compliment to Walkon who he clearly feels deserves to take his chance. He has always been thought of as a national possibility when King gave him a run in the Scottish version 2 years ago. He was pulled up on that occasion but he was only a 7 year old and he is hopefully going to be a stronger and fitter proposition returning as a 9 year old.
The flat season springs into action on Saturday and there is plenty of reason to feel excited about what looks like two fascinating cards. Both meetings interestingly have an external influence to proceedings; in Dubai the controversial Tapeta track at Meydan plays host to the headline race the Dubai World Cup. Not all horses go well on the surface and that is an interesting sub plot which could also play out at Doncaster given the heavy rain they have had in the past day changing the going to soft, leading to several high profile absentees.
The main thing to consider in the flat season curtain raiser is the likelihood of horses to give their best running. Many won’t be fully wound up, others will be targeting bigger races later in the season which leaves the door open for canny trainers to target some early season glory. Richard Fahey has a strike rate at this meeting which is over 20% better than any other trainers and add to that the stat that he is one of the best trainers statistically at returning horses from a break (or indeed giving them a seasonal bow). Subsequently he needs to be kept on side.
2.40 – In this sprint race Fahey’s Heaven’s Guest is overpriced at around 10/1. He ran very well in some handicaps last year notably on a softer surface and he is taken to take his place at listed level
3.15 – In the consolation Spring Mile Fahey runs Brae Hill who has an incredible record over track and trip however there is concern that stable jock Tony Hamilton has opted for stable companion Farlow. This does create a quandary from a betting perspective and I would still be happier siding with Brae Hill who almost looks a no brainer given his win in the Lincoln in 2012 and his nose defeat last year. Gworn could quite easily be a fly in the ointment here and his run on soft ground at Ascot last year gives plenty of encouragement there is more in the tank and he is also taken to go close.
3.50 – The Lincoln itself is a race I have got stuck into Ante Post so the fancy prices about Tulius have now gone but 8/1 about any of Andrew Balding’s horses running in England at the moment is a great price given the form they are in. Gabrials Kaka also looks interesting but I have taken a flyer on Fahey’s second string Hi There. He was 33/1 before the rain came and I still think he has been overlooked in the market at around 25/1. Everyone keeps saying he wants further because he won over 10 furlongs twice last year but the key to this fellow is soft ground and given that he has won over a mile he may be finishing strongly when other are tiring.
If the Lincoln is described as a valuable handicap in England at £100,000 it seems crazy to think that the Dubai World Cup winner will scoop $6 Million!
The tricky thing to weigh up is the Dubai Carnival form of the recognised trial races over the past few months compared with quality of horses shipped in from Japan, Europe and Australia for the big day. It is difficult because there is a lot of hype surrounding some horses without knowing whether they will perform on the surface.
Dubai Gold Cup – Cavalryman will almost certainly make the frame given the way he despatched a lot of these in the trial however at the prices Aiden O’Brien’s Ernest Hemingway is a better proposition at over twice the price. Coolmore love to develop a staying champion and the fact this 5 year old has been kept in training and is unexposed over a longer trip coupled with O’Brien’s willingness to fly him half way around the world means he could be overpriced at 7/1.
UAE Derby – I can’t get away from Giovanni Boldini to make it 3 in a row for Aiden O’Brien. He looks way more progressive than last years winner Daddy Long Legs and if he acts on the Tapeta then he has a huge chance. He does have to overcome the impressive Long John, however most of Charlie Appleby’s horses that bolt up first time out have not followed up and whilst this trend obviously won’t go on forever Giovanni Boldini’s second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile looks very solid form.
Al Quoz Sprint – Amber Sky if you listen to the Japanese is the fastest horse in training and cannot lose. However this only serves to set the race up for strong travelling Sole Power who loves fast ground and with such a strong pull into the race can go very well at about 8/1.
Dubai Duty Free – In contrast I am keen to side with the Japanese in this race as Just A Way was mightily impressive in his last two runs in his native Japan and should take some stopping. At a bigger price Tasaday could outrun lofty odds of 20/1 for Godolphin.
Duabi Sheema Classic – Magician is my nap of the meeting and is still 3/1 despite winning the Irish 200o Guineas and the Breeders cup turf. I can’t see him losing.
Dubai World Cup – Back to Japan for the main selection. I was very taken by the way Military Attack swept past Akeed Mofeed and destroyed him by 6 lengths last time out. It was visually very impressive and if he gets the run of the race and more importantly handles the Tapeta he is the one they all have to beat. I see Ruler of the World as a real galloper and needs a long straight and an open race. He won’t get that in the hustle and bustle of Meydan and I think this might prove too tight for him. He is plenty short enough in the betting. The second selection is either Prince Bishop or Sanshawes. The form they both bring is strong and even though Fallon is 3 from 3 on him I think Sanshawes can reverse that form now he has a better draw and the 16/1 available about him rates good each way value.
The world hurdle turned out to be the race of the week so far. I say this because it looked for all the world the wonder mare Annie Power was going to produce her devastating turn of foot but she was out gunned by a very classy and game More of That. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge was giving Annie Power 7lbs and she still couldn’t get past him. I admit to underestimating Annie Power but was confident she wouldn’t win and so it proved. There is a new kid on the block in the staying division and he looks mightily impressive. On the plus side for this column both Spring Healed (winner) and Balnaslow (placed) landed the spoils in the last. Spring Healed available at 25/1 at one point. Tatenen also ran into a place in the Byrne Plate at huge odds of 40/1 so an all round great day. Lets hope to end on a high!
Novice hurdle experts Mullins an Walsh who were responsible for victory in the Neptune, Supreme and have the even money favourite for the Albert Bartlett, run Abyssial and he is as big as 16/1 at the time of writing. Irrespective of the fact he has won all 3 starts including a grade 2, he must rate as value. I also have heard a lot of positive noise from the Henderson camp regarding Royal Irish Hussar and I would be surprised if he couldn’t chalk off his recent disappointing run to get back on track here.
1pt EW – Abyssial – UP
1pt EW – Royal Irish Hussar – UP
Another really tricky handicap with lots with chances. The one for me ante post was Montbazon. Alan King’s horses have run well all week and King reported that Montbazon was such a strong worker he has to sometimes canter on his own because he is so classy. His run in the bet fair is easy to forgive as he faded badly in the mud but having said that he travelled nicely until he got tired. He is still around 25/1 and worth an investment. The other one I have backed is Alaivan. Any Jonjo O’Neill horse that sneaks into the bottom of the handicap and then gets a 5 lb claimer put on board is certainly worthy of interest!
1pt EW – Montbazon – Place
1pt EW – Alaizan – UP
Favourites have a good record in this race and to be fair the Mullins camp are very bullish about Briar Hill but I can’t have it. Briar Hill has been pretty workmanlike so far over hurdles and though Patrick Mullins has said he only does what he needs to, my thought process works like this. Faugheen and Vautour, visually very impressive hackable at about 4/1 and 5/2 – bolted up. Briar Hill is now evens and that doesn’t rate a great bet to me. I like both Captain Cutter and Kings Palace and suppose the presence of 3 strong horses at the top of the market has made other prices very big. I have plumped for some real outsiders. Prince Siegfried is 100/1, so you don’t get more of an outsider than than. He was travelling like a tank when coming down at the last at Ascot when he had Splash of Ginge held and Irving in potential danger. That form hasn’t been franked this week but all his subsequent runs have been in soft conditions and I hope upped in trip on a good surface he could run into a place. I have also backed Mosspark for Emma Lavelle who has done little wrong so far and is 25/1.
.5pts EW Prince Siegfied and Mosspark – Both UP
I am astounded Bobs Worth has drifted this morning and think this looks a remarkably weak Gold Cup. I can see Bob’s Worth winning at a canter and can’t see him not winning. I backed Triolo D’Alene when he was confirmed at 25/1 and think he could run into a place. He is now half those odds so I will stick with Bob’s Worth who is the champ and seems to have few pretenders to his crown.
3pts Win – Bob’s Worth – UP
This race has been great for trying to pick out some real prices and Oscar Delta’s demise last year was heartbreaking for all concerned given it had defeated all the obstacles but seemed swerve on the flat and unseat his rider. Divine Intavention finished second last year and now under the hands of Martin Keighley I suspect he has been laid out for this all year. He is still a good price at about 16/1 so worth an each way investment. Harbour Court is a prolific winner and I have been weighing up him and Tammy’s Hill all morning. However Tammys Hill has drifted and at the time of writing is about 8/1. That could represent excellent value so has become the selection on the basis of price.
1 pt win Divine Intavention – UP
1pt win Tammys Hill – Win
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys
I have opted for 3 in this race at low stakes because it does look extra difficult. The 3 in question are The Skyfarmer, Don Poli and Princely Player. Phillip Hobbs has had a really good week and although his ‘good thing’ Fingal Bay only won by a nostril I am interested in two of his to run well at 16/1 and 33/1 respectively. Especially win Bet365 offering 5 places and best odds! Don Poli looks progressive and unexposed for Wille Mullins and could give the Gigginstown boys their first victory of the week.
1pt win – Skyfarmer / Don Poli / Princely Player – Don Poli – Win
The curtain closer often goes to Britain although Alderwood ruined that party 12 months ago. I am on Next Sensation Antepost and pleased to see that trading as favourite now. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him at around the 7/1 mark. Looking at things now though Raya Star looks a stand out bet. This horse has been running in a better grade all season and a 2 length defeat to subsequent Queen Mother third Module in the Game spirit looks all the more impressive now. Alan King’s horses continue to run well at 10-1 I am keen to get involved.
1pt EW – Next Sensation – Place
1pt EW – Raya Star – UP
Sire De Grugy’s success yesterday was one of my all time highlights of the Cheltenham festival. Much has subsequently been made of the story, which is heartwarming in itself. However for me the stand out thing to take from it is that in a sport where the rich and well to do dominate (primarily because they can buy / breed the best horses) there is room for everyone. You only have to look at Willie Mullins horses in the pink silks owned by a multi-millionaire who is aptly name Mr Rich. Every race seems to have a JP McManus runner with the gold and green hoops synonymous with the champ AP McCoy. But there is only one Sire De Grugy. One horse with those colours, one chance to have a horse in training, one chance to win a race. Surely not at Cheltenham? Well connections of SDG can claim to have swept all before them this year (including one the greatest; Sprinter Sacre) culminating in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Phenomenal.
Previously the Jewson’s novice chase this newly promoted grade 1 has a decent feel to it this year. I am mainly interested in 3 towards the top of the market but it looks open enough that each of the top 6 has a genuine chance. I have backed Felix Yonger at 8/1 ante post which looks cosy value now but can’t tip him up at currently half the price. Not when Oscar Whiskey finally gets to run at his optimum trip at his favourite track. Half of his 24 runs have been at Cheltenham and over 20/21 furlongs – todays trip his form figures read 111211. For that reason I have to be with him and not against him at around 7/1.
1pt Each Way – Oscar Whiskey – UP
This really is a minefield and seeing as the winner is usually a big price I am shying away from the top end. The pin has fallen on two horses around the 25/1 mark. Firstly Phillip Hobbs has bundles of entries in this and the one which catches my eye is Uncle Jimmy. He could have had Thomas Cheesman claiming 7 pounds on any of his so called outsiders and it interests me that Uncle Jimmy has got the nod. I am also keeping Gerraghty and Henderson well on side and am really surprised to see Mister Dillon at such big odds. Gerraghty was quite bullish about his staying powers in his comments about this race on his blog so an each way play at 25/1 paying 5 places seems a decent bet.
1pt EW – Mister Dillon – UP
1pt EW – Uncle Jimmy – UP
I have been backing Al Ferof for most of the season but can’t get Nicholls poor start to cheltenham out of my head so am looking elsewhere in this race. Benefficient seems the most likely winner to me and would be shorter if trained by Mullins and not Martin. I was very impressed with his performance at last years festival and can see him repeating the feat. Of the others Medermit is a huge price given his good festival record. He has been 4th in the Arkle and 2nd in this race in the past and whilst he struggles to get the job done I am happy to have an each way nibble at about 33/1.
1 pt Win – Benefficient – Place
0.5 pt EW – Medermit – UP
I am happy to go out on a limb and say I am not having Annie Power at all in the world hurdle. For me she has achieved very little in England so far other than beating a below par Zarkander in terrible ground. Her novice hurdle form over 2 miles where she despatched the Tullow tank among others does read very well now but her most recent win was against a bunch of jokers and this looks much tougher. Big Bucks was available at 9/2 this morning and that price is enormous for a horse that as far as I can see still looks a beast. He tired after the last when surprisingly beaten by Knockara Beau but he has won this 4 times and I hope he makes it 5. I have also backed Reve De Sivola at 50/1. He was 11/4 to win the aforementioned cleave hurdle and one poor race in bottomless ground and he is out to 50/1 for the World hurdle. I would admittedly be surprised if he actually won given he has flopped here in the past but Nick Williams was very upbeat about him and given he won so well in Ascot’s Group 1 Long Walk Hurdle I can’t believe his price this morning.
2 pts Win – Big Bucks – UP
1pt EW – Reve De Sivola – UP
Byrne Group Plate
Sew on target beat Johns Spirit over pretty much track and trip in December and returned to run into place behind Wishful Thinking in January. He is a whole stone lighter than Johns Spirit and over twice the price at 25/1. Those two fourths in competitive cheltenham handicaps followed up by winning last time out make him a player at big odds. Of the others I am interested by Champion Courts drop in class but he does head the weights so preference is for Tatenen who’s win at Newbury caught my eye as did his price of 40/1
1pt EW – Sew on Target – UP
1pt EW – Tatenen – Place
Spring heeled is a value alternative to the fancied Indian Castle who might just want the ground a little softer than it currently is. Jim Culloty expertly produced Lord Windermere for festival success last year and this looks like his best chance to back in the winners enclosure here. I have also backed Balnaslow. Willie Mullins always has a strong hand and this horse came a good 4th in the competitive Thyestes Chase where the winner, On his own, is taking his place in the gold cup tomorrow! This is a step down in class given he has been pitted against Felix Yonger and Defy Logic in Group 2’s this season and I expect him to go well.
1pt EW – Spring Heeled – Win
1pt EW – Balnaslow – Place
The equine annual Olympiad returns to Prestbury Park on Tuesday, where over 4 days and 27 races the good and the great of the horse racing world will be on show. Whether you are an owner, trainer, jockey or punter the Cheltenham Festival is a very special time for all concerned. The big question is how special a time will it be for the bookmakers? Hopefully we can expose a few angles and pick a few winners!
Supreme Novices Hurdle
A very intriguing opening to the Festival with a similar story to last year. A well fancied, impressive, British Novice attempting to overcome the unwanted favourite tag and a string of Willie Mullins’ Irish raiders desperate to lower his colours. Last year My Tent or Yours was defeated by an enterprising ride from Ruby Walsh and Vautour, given his staying performance from the front in his recent Grade 1 win looks set to adopt similar tactics. However there are grounds for optimism if, as I am, you are an Irving supporter. Looking at his flat form in Germany he went close in a listed race over 1m 6f and since switched to hurdles is 4 from 4. Beating plenty of decent rivals including Splash of Ginge who since went on and won the Betfair Hurdle. His jumping is probably the only thing to stop him as he can hit a few of the obstacles and with the supreme always a breakneck gallop (which should suit his strong travelling style) it may cause an error or two. He is now a short enough price at 5/2 but I backed him at 6’s a few weeks ago and I’m very pleased with that. He is the most likely winner so will remain my first pick. Josses Hill has probably achieved as much as anything else in the race, is trained by the most successful Cheltenham trainer ever and is still available at 16/1. Thats value for me and he looks certain to run his race and should make the top 4.
3pts Win – Irving
1pt E/W – Josses Hill
There are a lot of people saying it looks a race with strength in depth this year. What I think is there is no Simonsig / Sprinter Sacre this year so what they men is there isn’t standout superstar. However that may not be the case. Simonsig won his 3 cheltenham prep races by a combined total of 99 lengths so was entitled to be 8/15f on the day. Sprinter Sacre was only 46 lengths better of his rivals in his equivalent prep runs to see him 8/11f for this race. In contrast Champagne Fever has had 2 prep runs, comfortably winning his first before disappointing on Boxing day and we havent seen him since. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a superstar and if he were to win the Arkle his cheltenham immortality would be sealed and he is still a novice chaser! Champagne Fever won the Bumper 2 years ago, last year won the Supreme and is this years favourite for the Arkle. If he wins the Queen Mother next year he would inscribed in folklore. However we are getting well ahead of ourselves. His jumping was his achilles heal when jolting on landing at Leopardstown, however 3 things bring me back to the grey every time. One is course form, festival winning experience times two. Two, Willie Mullins is an expert trainer and he interestingly has only CF to represent him (Felix Yonger is technically entered but is heading to the JLT). Which to me illustrates supreme confidence. It will be tough to front run and make all in the Arkle but if any horse can its Champagne Fever. Lastly I watched him school after racing on Sunday and he looked a picture over the fences and was putting metres into Felix Yonger with every jump. Providing he jumps well he will win. I will also have a nibble each way on Valdez. Alan King’s charge looked a tough nut to crack last time out and came from well off a strong pace to cruise home. If CF does tire up I expect Valdez to still be there fighting at the end.
3pts Win – Champagne Fever
1pt E/W – Valdez
Festival Handicap Chase
Hadrian’s Approach looks to have been given a good weight in this handicap, particularly matched against his RSA chase third here last year. He races off a lower mark this year and fits an ideal profile of a horse who won last time out and has had a nice break before the festival. He won when last seen in December, beating a useful field. I think at double figure odds he is a great each way bet, add into the mix his trainer (Nicky Henderson) and Jockey (Barry Gerraghty) and the fact he is now in a handicap he can go very well. Cantlow rates a major danger but his value has gone which leaves me to put a little wager on Vintage Star. I have lost count how many times I watch racing up north and in Scotland and seen Ryan Mania cruise home on a Sue Smith trained horse. She is a shrewd trainer illustrated by her 66-1 Grand National victory and I am prepared to forget Vintage Star’s poor Cheltenham performance last year. Davy Russell is an eye catching booking and at 25-1 he could be a real live outsider.
1pt E/W – Hadrians Approach
1pt E/W Vintage Star
This is the most hyped race of festival and rightly so. It epitomises the very essence of why Cheltenham is so well loved. Those not that into Horse Racing won’t understand that in Ireland and England there are two separate seasons. Most British horses never race in Ireland and a lot of Irish horses don’t venture into races in Britain, until Cheltenham. Cheltenham pitches form on both sides of the Irish Sea and the skill of punters, trainers, jockeys and owners is to decipher the form and work out who will prevail. The champion hurdle is a prime example of the Irish versus the British. Dual champion Hurricane Fly returns alongside Our Conor and Jezki to do battle with young pretenders The New One and My Tent or Yours. The most intriguing thing is none of these have done battle at Cheltenham before except for MTOY and Jezki. In those two we have 2nd and 3rd from last years Supreme, last years Triumph winner Our Conor, last years Neptune winner the New One and last years champion hurdle winner Hurricane Fly. This literally could not be any stronger. Of all the big hurdle races at Cheltenham 2013, Champagne Fever is the only absentee. Wow. There is no point me offering up a definitive selection because everyone has there own ideas about the race. My thoughts are that the British form will hold up. I happen to think the Champion Hurdle since 2006 hasn’t been of a great standard. Winners at 11/1 , 10/1 , 9/1 , 22/1 , 16/1 illustrate this. In fact only when Hurricane Fly has the winner been shorter than 9/1 and when he has won there has been no-where near the class of this years field. I think the Christmas Hurdle pair will probably battle it out again and I have backed The New One, so will stick with him. There is a chance that with Captain Cee Bee supplemented to set a good gallop TNO’s superior stamina may show. This may too play into Melodic Rendezvous hands and I have backed him at 40/1. If you can get a fancy price on his each way it could be worth a small investment.
1 pt Win – The New One
0.5pt E/W – Melodic Rendezvous
Terry Biddlecombe NH Amateur Race
Looking at the stats the horse to back is Corrin Wood. The last 3 runnings have been won by the highest horse on official ratings, however Donald McCain’s charge is likely to defect to the RSA leaving Black Thunder at the top. Paul Nicholls is a top trainer however 1 placed runner of the last 15 means he is easy to leave alone over this marathon trip. Derek O’Connor is a significant booking on board Shotgun Paddy (the next highest rated horse), and listening to Emma Lavelle’s comments “This has been the target for him since he won the Classic Chase at Warwick in January. That was some performance for a lightly raced novice high in the handicap and the way he stayed on over 3m5f suggests the extra distance at Cheltenham will suit him.” he ranks high on the short list. Trainers comments can often be misleading but when Willie Mullins says he is willing to take back out his riding license to ride a horse it is probably worth listening to. Those comments were about Suntiep and whilst he hasn’t shown a lot so far he might be worth chancing at big odds.
1pt E/W – Shotgun Paddy
1pt E/W – Suntiep
Rewards4racing Handicap Chase
I must admit to backing Manyriverstocross a month ago at 20-1 and whilst I am happy as larry with that ticket he has halved in price. I wouldn’t put any off backing him but there must be more value to be found elsewhere. I will wait until the final declarations and then update.
Today Chris Horner became the most successful American road cyclist of the past 20 years by winning the Vuelta Espana (Tour of Spain). Success in this context being the pinnacle achievement of any road racer; a victory in a grand tour. In doing so Horner became the oldest ever winner of a grand tour and by some distance. In fact he was the oldest man ever to line up in the Vuelta when he rolled out on stage 1 so for him to come away with the red jersey signifying the overall winner is a startling achievement. It does however leave one question lingering in the mind…how?
The American superstars that emerged after Greg Lemond’s last Tour De France victory in 1990 have all been shamed. Lance Armstrong most famously as well as former teammate and Olympic champion Tyler Hamilton have been outed for cheating. Blood transfusions, Epo injections, Testosterone tablets; you name it they were doing it to ensure success at the top level. Horner’s victory presents me with only two likely scenarios; 1) Horner a decent pro at best has benefitted from a cleaner sport and has finally been able to succeed when the playing field is more level. 2) Horner, a US cyclist, ex Astana – a team highly controversial in relation to drug use, whose manager was Johan Bruyneel (serial cheat) and team leader was Lance Armstrong (ditto) well you know the rest.
Lets take the negative scenario 2 first in order to finish the article with some form of romanticism for the sport. One argument is that it is inconceivable that Chris Horner was / is clean. The question will only really be raised now he has won a grand tour but this is a professional who was at Astana with Armstrong and Bruyneel in 2009 and when Armstrong left to form his own team sponsored by Radioshack who was number 1 on the list to come with him…Horner. Just a brief dip in to Tyler Hamilton’s book gives you an insight into the way Armstrong treated those close to him and if Horner was considered an asset he would have been doping. He may be clean now and I am not suggesting he has taken drugs to win the Vuelta. In the spirit of looking forward rather than back I am not looking to ‘dig up old graves’ so to speak and accuse riders of being on drugs at a time when the tour winner himself (Contador) was being disqualified for doping, however it is merely a fact of life seemingly that the majority of the peloton seem to have been doping in some capacity. So on the basis that drugs testers seem to be improving and there have been fewer high profile positive tests over the past few years can we dare to dream in this fairy tale story?
I like scenario 1 better for obvious and plentiful reasons however the single most pertinent point I can make on the matter is this. If a 41 year old rider who wasn’t even considered to be the teams leader at the start of the race, a man who has never won a grand tour and only once finished inside the top 10 (before his win) in a grand tour, can now win a grand tour then there are less people cheating and there is more chance for people to win Paniagua (literally translated as bread and water it is a cycling term meaning without taking drugs). The romanticist in me looks at Chris Horner’s long and decent career; a man who never won a national title, never won a classic in fact never finished inside the top 5. His biggest wins were in the Tour of Georgia and Tour of California it just doesn’t scream grand tour winner. His 9th in the 2010 tour de France was the stand out performance of his career until now, so the conclusion could be drawn that in an era when cheating through drug taking and transfusions was rife, Chris Horner rode paniagua gaining little success outside of his native America where he managed to clinch the odd Sea Otter Classic and Tour de Toona…hardly the ambitions of a supercheat! I am doing Horner a minor dis-service, his career is sprinkled with decent Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, Paris-Nice and Tour De Romandie results. But he is what he is, a decent pro with a decent career. No huge wins, no major spotlight. Until today, a victory in one of the most thrilling grand tours I have watched. A real sporting spectacle.
To the people who say he must have taken drugs I’m sure his riposte would be absolute.
“Actually, look what happens and how great this sport can be when people don’t take drugs”.
In 1994 I painted my face with a Germany flag in the hope Olaf Ludwig might win the 5th stage of the Tour De France. He didn’t, thwarted by Nicola Minali into second place much to my disappointment. My Brother had it right though, brightly clad in the Spanish flag cheering on the indestructible Muguel Indurain to another Tour win. 19 years on it seems unbelievable, given the current state of cycling that I had to disown my own nationality so readily, but with no British rider in the tour’s top 100 in 1994 what else was I suppose to do? How times change!
1996 was a great year for British sport. Nick Faldo won the US Masters, Damon Hill won the F1 title and England won the 5 nations. Us British are seriously spoilt. But is that good enough for the nation who hold sport dearest to their hearts yet harbour an underwhelming pessimism about the actual quality of our sporting ability. Success? in 1996 was typified by our Olympic haul; 1 gold medal, 8 silvers and 6 bronze – 15 medals! In a bare facts comparison the 2012 total reads 29 golds 17 silvers and 19 bronze – 65 medals…50 more! This go me thinking about how far British sport had come in my lifetime and more importantly led me to the conclusion that Great Britain (22nd largest population and wealth according to GDP) is the best sporting nation on the planet.
Lets start with my favourite sports (with the obvious omission of football – please see later in the article for public shaming of the worst run sport in our country.)
Cricket – No ashes win in 1989, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 01, 02 then 3 of the last 4 and currently 2-0 up in the recent series. Add to this in the past 5 years England have won the world T20 reached the final of the ICC champions trophy twice and been the best test team in the world. All things I dreamed of whilst being skittled by Akram and Ambrose growing up. We are now at the top of tree and staying there.
Rugby Union – Lions tours haven’t always been successful and neither should I judge this years victory on much, given the weight of the opposition but England have won the world cup and Wales made the semi finals. All of which marks distinct progress from the Lomu bashing we received in my youth.
Golf – From 1996 to 2010 Paul Lawrie was the only British Major winner in golf. Of late they seem to be far more regular; Mcdowell ’10 Mcllroy and Clarke ’11 Mcllroy again in ’12 and Rose in ’13. Add to this mix Mcllroy, Donald and Westwood topping the Golf rankings and the stranglehold Europe have ion the Ryder cup, Golf seems to be riding a similarly lofty wave as other sports.
Cycling – Until 2012 no British rider had ever won the Tour De France in its 98 years! Now we have had 2 in 2 years. Sky ( a british based team) continue to be dominant on the World scene. In Chris Froome Britain has one of the most talented grand tour riders ever and in Bradley Wiggins they have a track and road legend. Never mind the success on the track where British men and women are borderline untouchable, this is another sport where Britain is the current pioneer of progress and success.
This article could genuinely run forever looking at British success. Players in the NBA, Horses winning around the world, rowers dominating regattas, boxers winning world titles. In lots of sports there aren’t many countries that compete; rugby and cricket for example, yet we are always there participating and winning. In sports such as Motor racing where money plays such a huge part, Button and Hamilton are recent world champions. In tennis Andy Murray is the holder of two majors (a last Brit won 1 in the mens game in 1936). In fact there aren’t many sports worldwide that we don’t have a decent crack at and I believe you would be hard pushed to find a nation so successful across the breadth of sports we are in Britain. Come the sailing and the rowing and the cycling at the Olympics we are number 1. All countries have their sporting stars but few can boast such a variety of heroes and heroines across such a diverse demographic; icons who escalated us to 3rd on the medal table at the Olympics and Paralympics. Leaving the Olympics aside we compete and succeed at hockey and swimming and athletics. Obviously not in every meeting we win but it does beg the question has any country got the balance quite as right as us?
Is there any country around the world who has world champions and continued success in Rugby, Cricket, Athletics, Rowing, Cycling, Sailing, Horse Racing and Show Jumping, Boxing the list goes on. Some countries disproportionately fund their sports, others stick to elite programmes but in terms of the most high profile sports worldwide their aren’t many countries who regularly provide more stars currently than Britain, and this certainly hasn’t always been the case. The money that goes into the funding, the way the coaches are trained and the governing bodies are run, surely there is a vast amount of good practice knocking around? Which sadly brings me round to the point of how the one sport in the country is able to continue to fail – Football. How can it fail so badly when other sports have dragged themselves out of the mire and hauled their regimes kicking and screaming into 21st century success. If I was head of the FA, granted I would do a lot of things, but learn something from other governing bodies in Britain would be 2nd on my list after growing a backbone. Only then may we start seeing progress in the so called national game. For if we don’t the hysteria of other successes might just sweep people away!