Wednesday 15th June
The Jersey is a tricky old race where the form of unexposed three year olds not quite ready / good enough for the early season guineas matches up against those that took their place at Newmarket and the Curragh. The strongest recent form trends favour horse having run in a guineas – over the last two years the 1-2-3 all contested a guineas. In this renewal the only three horses (all in English Guineas) to do this are Herald the Dawn (8th , Kentucky Connection (5th) and Ribchester (3rd). If your a stats man, theres your combination tricast…move on. I have to say in such a difficult to assess race and given the slow ground, form over a mile looks key here and I think all three have good chances at big enough prices. The one who is significantly over priced is Kentucky Connection at 50/1! He came 5th in an English 2000 Guineas a Group 1 and the next time he runs over a similar trip he is 50/1, to put into context Zonderland came sixth and before he was pulled out he was 16/1 to win the Group 1 St James Palace. The price is likely based on his average showing in the Dante at York but that was a race won by the Derby 4th over 2 furlongs longer than the Guineas. If he is suited by the drop in trip he is a definite bet. Ribchester is the one I am more sweet on though, he carries a penalty which all three of the last winner have done and I have rarely seen Richard Fahey talk so glowingly about one of his inmates. In a bid to uphold Guineas form those two are selected.
Win – Ribchester 10/1
Each Way – Kentucky Connection 50/1
After last years coup on Acapulco at 6/1 I am keen to again side with Wesley Ward and his precocious 2 year olds. However the juice in the price has gone and whilst he continues to describe Lady Aurelia as a flying machine the ground would certainly be a concern. In a race where it is difficult to assess I am going to put her up as a saver but make the main bet Al Shaqab’s French trained Al Johra. Two impressive wins in France and given the her profile and the fact she has run twice in France the soft ground should inconvenience her less than a lot of the other 2 yo fillies who may not relish too much cut. Harry Herbert was particularly keen on her chances and at around 12/1 with some firms she represents excellent ew value.
Win – Lady Aurelia – 5/2
EW – Al Johra 9/1
Duke of Cambridge
Usherette is one of my Naps of the meeting and at a still available 2/1 I think she is an excellent price. Unbeaten but for one blip in the Prix Rothschild and proven on a variety of ground, Andre Fabre who is one of the best judges in racing believes she is very very talented and reportedly can’t hide the grin from his face when he talks about her. That is enough for me and she will be the win selection. Seeking out opposition is tricky but it may well come in the form of the same owner with Lucida and Always Smile being viable ew propositions. However if the favourite is to lose I suspect it will be to someone who relishes the soft underfoot conditions and Devonshire has a recent group 2 win on soft ground at the Curragh to her name. This is a tougher race but the ground will hold no fears for William McCreery’s filly and she is fancied to make it a Godolphin 1-2 whilst Maimara, a proven soft ground specialist may give them most to think about.
Win – Usherette 2/1
Each Way – Devonshire 12/1
Prince of Wales
A Shin Hikari‘s win in France last time out was phenomenal and given all the withdrawals and non runners, this race is a bit of a non event. Don’t say that too loudly around the Found camp though as she is a worthy adversary, however there isn’t enough juice in her price and the Japanese raider, whom the ground will hold no fears is no aroun 1/2. The only chance of him getting beaten is if there was an unsatisfactory race with a muddling pace but given how he can front run I can’t really foresee any problems. It will be a watching brief for me and a hope Japan can open their Royal Ascot Account
Royal Hunt Cup
Probably one of the hardest races to call is the Royal Hunt Cup and with the draw playing potentially a big part a selection from both a high and low draw seems the most sensible play. Bagging the running rail can be such a big help in these big field handicaps especially over Ascot’s straight mile and Balty Boys is drawn in stall 1 which should be perfect. He was 4th in this race last year off a very similar weight and was unlucky in that he was beaten by the draw, coming home first in his group, a repeat of that performance will see him firmly in the shake up. Librisa Breeze is bottom weight and progressive and it is that unexposed angle which is enough to gain my interest. Given these horses race each other with relative frequency Librisa Breeze has only had 7 career starts and I like this 4 year old geldings chance of running well here and potentially on to better things
EW – Balty Boys – 20/1
EW – Librisa Breeze – 20/1
Another tricky race to finish with but one it might pay to just keep it simple with. John Gosden is a top trainer and when he has a 6/1 shot a the head of the market it is probably worth an investment. With strong vibes about Persuasive and Abamba I am going to back both and maybe throw in a cheeky reverse forecast to to try and end the day on a high.
Win – Persuasive
EW – Abamba
With the best flat racing festival in the world upon us this week I will give some detailed analysis on each race and provide a Win and EW selection for each race.
Tuesday 14th June
The Royal Ascot opener has been a bit of a graveyard for foreign raiders with lofty reputations over the pas few years with both Animal Kingdom and Able Friend both failing to transfer their dominance on home turf to the straight mile at Ascot. This year Tepin, the US wondermare puts her reputation on the line having showed her class in the breeders cup turf defeating some of those that re-oppose in Ascot’s first group 1 of the meeting. Of those that do re-oppose Mondialiste strikes me as massively overpriced given Tepin got the perfect trip last time and Mondialiste finished like a train to chase her home after the bird had flown. Mondialiste contested his first two races in France where he won on softish ground so I would be surprised if he was significantly inconvenienced and his close second on British debut in the Lincoln illustrates he can handle the tricky test of a straight mile – EW at 25/1 for master trainer David O’Meara he could definitely hit the frame.
The straight mile was probably the undoing of both Animal Kingdom and Able Friend who are both used to tight turning tracks, subsequently the best marker for this race in my opinion is the Lockinge at Newbury. The first group 1 of the British season and gives the older horses a valuable prep race for Ascot. The two that I took out of the race are Endless Drama and the winner Belardo. Endless Drama looks a good each way proposition to build on an encouraging seasonal debut and he is an exciting horse for Ger Lyons and with ease in the ground this race looks right up his street (a general 7-1 chance Boylesports have opened 14-1 so if you have an account this price is far too big). However there is no getting away from Belardo’s taking success; the ground will be even more to his liking this week and will certainly inconvenience him less than all the others. Roger Varian you feel had the Queen Anne in mind when he ran Solow (last years Queen Anne winner) so close in the QEII on Champions day over course and distance on similar ground – a performance close to that will see him win this easily. The stiff finish will suit his searing late swoop and given the fractions Tepin is likely to set I can see her fading and Belardo flying home late. The stats say 4 year olds have a great record in this race so it would be a surprise if Belardo was not in the top 3 so at 9-2 general price an EW investment is still a possibility but I think he will win so he is the win selection.
Win – Belardo 9-2
EW – Mondialiste 25-1
The scene of my most pleasing success at last years meeting when a long term ante post gamble on Buratino paid off in spades. It was my conjecture that he would be the best horse on the day (having had plenty of runs already) but unlikely to be the best horse at the end of the year. Air Force Blue runner up on the day took that accolade and after going off a short price for the Guineas he has been a real disappointment this season (however it is worth noting his inclusion in the Commonwealth Cup field at the probable expense of favoruite Acapulco -same owners, is a fascinating sub plot for the rest of the week. Aiden O’Brien usually saves his best 2 YO for the Coventry as Holy Roman Emperor and Henrythenavigator have proved in recent years and Caravaggio certainly looks exciting. However seeing as he hasn’t run over 6f yet and Ascot is not a flat 6 and he still looks a bit green he may just get outstayed especially if the ground is a little testing. Furthermore short prices in the Coventry aren’t my bag. However O’Brien as a judge is very much part of why I like Psychedelic Funk (6/1 general). Ger Lyons likes this horse a lot and he recently said in an interview “when Aiden (O’Brien) says you have good one you know it must be true” adding further weight to his impressive 2 from 2 record, which incidentally came on soft ground in Ireland. I personally want to back a horse who has already run over 6f, is unbeaten and proven on the going, add to this market strength and positive vibes Psychedelic Funk is a must play at 6/1 given he is 3 times the price of the favourite.
There is a very interesting stat that 11 of the past 23 winners won on their only start. Going through the list Thunder Snow catches the eye. Godolphin (who won the race last year) love Royal Ascot and king trainer Saeed Bin Suroor was described as “very keen” to run him in the Coventry as he is forward and seems ready. It took a while for the penny to drop in his win at Leicester but when it did he picked up stylishly and was flying through the line. This is obviously a big step up but given the Owner/Trainer combination and the positive statistics he’s worth ew support at around 16/1
Win – Psychedelic Funk 6/1
EW – Thunder Snow 16/1
Sticking to the Godolphin theme there is nothing I can see to put you off backing Jungle Cat at 20/1 in the Kings Stand. He seems like a horse no-one is willing to give much credit too. 2 years ago in the Coventry he ran a blinder to finish third behind The Wow Signal at Ascot and whilst he disappointed in the Commonwealth Cup last year where he was never involved. Since then he has placed in group 3’s at Meydan and Newmarket and was 4th in the Sprint on World Cup night where he comfortably defeated Sole Power and Goldream (last 3 winners of the Kings Stand) and he beat Muthmir who is half his odds for this. Last time out he came 1/2 length second to Profitable who is vying for favourtism. To me his form stacks up way better than a 20/1 shot and given the nature of this race springing a surprise and the fact the ground may blunt the absolute speedsters he could have the sustained speed to get involved.
The front 3 in the markets form ties in very nicely; Profitable looks markedly improved from last year and his recent victory over Meccas Angel was mightily impressive. Acapulco (possibly a doubt due to soft ground) is now a year older from her romp in the Queen Mary and it would be fascinating if she takes her chance here as she would have been a strong fancy for the Commonwealth Cup – however there is no getting away from how imperious Mecca’s Angel looked when swatting her aside in the Nunthorpe in soft ground. Ascot does dry well, particularly on the straight course but the forecast going is soft and I would be very shocked if Mecca’s Angel can’t get the job done in her perfect conditions, given this is surely her number 1 target for the year. She is very uncomplicated and very gutsy. My impression of her defeat to Profitable was that Profitable had the slight fitness edge over her and I think this is reflected in the market. Having said that Clive Cox, not one to shout from the rooftops, is very bullish about him, if the ground was good I think he would be a shoo-in but probably will be soft so it adds a difficult variable. If someone gave me £100 and said who would you put it on it would Mecca’s Angel so that will be the selection but a tricast with the first 3 in the market could be a fun alternative. Furthermore Wesley Ward’s fear of taking Mecca’s Angel on in soft ground adds further weight to her claims.
Win – Meccas Angel 7/2
EW – Jungle Cat 20/1
St James Palace
The clash of the guineas winners could end up being a damp squib as I personally think The Gurkha looks high class. Most trainers tried to dismiss his dismantling of the French 2000 guineas field by saying it was against Group 3 horses. Given the troubles he had at the start having to be reshod having lost a shoe and then do what he did shows class and temperament. The form is stacking too, contrary to what others have said. Zarak who was beaten to 5th by 6.5 lengths has run second in the French Derby, Zelzal (11th) and Moon Trouble (8th) have filled the 1-2 in a Group 3 and Attendu (9th) has since turned over Esoterique and Territories in a group 3. It would be a shock to see him beaten and since there was a possibility of him being supplemented for the Derby there can’t be stamina doubts about The Gurkha who looks destined for big things. Of the others I expect Awtaad to confirm placings with Galileo Gold but I just can’t see them beating Aiden O’Briens Colt.
Win – The Gurkha 11/8
National Hunt trainers have dominated this race and have won 8 of the last 9 runnings. In al honesty I normally wait to see who is being latched on to in the market. Last year Clondaw Warrior was backed in from 10/1 t0 5/1 favourite and I am hoping that one of Ireland’s Shrewdest trainers Gordon Elliot has ‘laid one out’ for this. Estihaal showed he could land a plot when winning the John Smiths Cup at York last summer and hopefully he can do exactly the same at a nice price of 14/1. Fran Berry has a habit of getting on board the right horse in this race (winning 2 of last 3 renewals and 3 wins in total) so his jockey booking is a real plus.
Willie Mullins has two very solid chances but they are short enough in such competitive renewal and I suspect this might turn into a bit of a slog. The one I prefer is Sempre Medici however Ryan Moore has opted for Pique Sous (who admittedly has some course form). Subsequently I am going to look further afield for some value. The trainers list is a who’s who of Jumps trainers; Henderson, Mullins, Elliot, Bailey however there is no Paul Nicholls? Dual purpose horses aren’t really his bag and he has been busy bagging the Grade 1 French Champion Hurdle last week. However delve a little deeper and Chartbreaker has recently changed hands from the Nicholls yard and runs for Chris Gordon off a low weight and at 33/1 he could be interesting as he is still a very young horse and could be open to some improvement now on the flat. If it does turn into a slog Jennies Jewel is one I want to have on side. She is a gutsy mare who when last at Ascot was seen chasing home the classy Vroum Vroum Mag in soft ground. This sort of test could be right up her street.
Win – Estihaal / Jennies Jewel 8/1
Ew – Chartbreaker 33/1
The last race on Tuesday is a funny one. Some years horses get hammered in (Hootenanny / Frederic Engels / Washington DC) and duly oblige to give the punters a lucky last. However 4 of the last 8 years have provided winners of 16/1 14/1 33/1 and even 100/1 so it can be a tricky conundrum. Ante Post I noticed Aiden O Brien’s only nominated runner – Pedestal was 20/1 so I have backed that however that is purely based upon trainer reputation. On closer inspection the one I really like is Mister Trader. Both runs have been on soft ground so that is a real plus. His first race saw him boss a maiden at the Curragh, breaking smartly and dominate from the front to win by almost 5 lengths. Next up was a clash with Coventry favourite Caravaggio. The pair tussled briefly before the O’Brien colt came out on top but Mister Trader lost nothing in defeat. Interestingly Mister Trader was then bought by Mr Abdullah Saeed Naboodah. The owner already has an entrant in the race so he clearly likes what he sees and it is an even bigger plus he has smart soft ground form. Currently available at 8/1 I would think he would end up starting favourite, especially if Caravaggio puts up a good account in the Coventry.
If we are to make it a super lucky last then Big Lachie could be the one. He did everything wrong on his debut at Windsor. He didn’t break quickly, pulled hard and had to circle the whole field to lead the 6f contest which he did gamely up until just after the furlong marker before being picked off but a good winner. He will have learnt a lot from that and the Godolphin winner was talked about quite positively by James Doyle afterwards. It is a leap of faith to think he can win this but given the profile of high priced winners, this strong pace over a straight 5 might play to Big Lachie strengths and see him outrun his enormous odds.
Win – Mister Trader 8/1
Place – Big Lachie 66/1
Commonwealth Games, Independence Vote, Ryder Cup – Scotland finally gears up for the event of the year!
Ryder Cup 2014
Gleneagles looks set to host a vintage renewal of the Ryder Cup and the format cant help but make any sport lover excited. The course looks fantastic and with a Par 5,3,5 finish it looks geared up for some really exciting matches. USA will be formidable this year, boasting a player who has just won $11.5 Million in prize money, two tournaments, the Fedex cup, shooting 11 consecutive rounds in the 60’s; Billy Horschel is not only on fire but also not selected so they will have to wrestle the European’s firm grip on the trophy without the help of the most in form man on the planet. Shame.
It’s on the course where I want to begin this preview as Skybet have a market which I think looks very inviting. They are offering 2/1 any hole to be halved in eagle over the three days. Initially I thought it seemed fair, but on closer inspection of the scorecard it looks a gimme, in golf parlance. The Centenary course boasts 4 par 5’s with only one longer than 550 yards. In particular the second looks tailor made for eagles and add to the mix the style of golf played in the four ball format it makes eagles even more likely. The second hole will be played 28 times over the three days and to think it won’t be halved in an eagle at some point would be foolish. To add weight to this argument I have looked to the Jonnie Walker Championship which is played on the European Tour at Gleneagles. In 2013 hole 2 yielded an enormous 32 eagles over the four rounds. Holes 16 and 18 had 10 and 11 respectively and hole 9 a miserly 5. In the third round in 2013 the hole averaged 4.22, which for a par 5 is very low and basically means everyone makes a birdie. There will plenty of eagle putts on hole two and I wouldn’t be massively surprised if this bet clicks on the first day.
Sticking with the Jonnie Walker Championship Stephen Gallagher has an exceptional record over the past few years. Last year he finished 2nd (lost in a playoff) and his previous three results were 6th / 6th / 14th. His record last year was phenomenal (illustrated below).
Round 4 – 5 birdies 2 eagles
Round 3 – 8 Birdies
Round 2 – 5 birdies 1 eagle
Round 1 – 4 birdies 1 eagle
At the Ryder Cup you need birdie machines and the big scot fits the bill, he eagled the second twice last year too! The big question with him is how much game time he gets but I like the look of him in the top rookie markets. He is 2/1 to be top European rookie and 6/1 top rookie. I would be concerned with Jordan Spieth who tops that market as I suspect he will play more than the other rookies but I’d be happy to think 2 points might win this race and if Gallacher wins his singles he only has to feature (and win) once on Friday and Saturday, which is likely.
The players I think look set to shine on both sides are Rose and Fowler. Current form isn’t the be all and end all but there are many reasons to think they will both go well. Fowler has had a phenomenal year and seems to make birdies at crucial times. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t play in at least 4 matches so he seems a safe bet for the top American accolade at 6/1 and indeed the top overall at 12/1. Justin Rose has had a good season winning on both tours, played nicely in the latter stages of the Fedex cup and is a man for the big occasion. Furthermore he is likely to be partnered with Poulter or possibly Stenson and either way that partnership looks strong. He is 7/1 top European and 14/1 top overall.
To end the preview there are a couple of players who have seemingly been forgotten in the betting and I can’t resist having a little saver on them. Bubba Watson will almost certainly be on the green in two at the four par 5’s and I’m surprised a two time Masters champion is 10/1 to be the top point scoring american and 22/1 to top score overall. I suspect he wont win the latter as Europe do look very strong this year but the 10/1 looks generous about a man who gets pumped for the Ryder Cup. I love Ian Poulter and hope he can continue his strong show in a format which suits his personality. I cant believe he is 8/1 to be top European point scorer! I suspect the bookies feel he is out of form and he cant possibly keep delivering the goods but he does thrive on these situations and I would be surprised if he didn’t get at least 3 points. That won’t be enough to win this year but might snare him the top Englishman crown at 5/2. Given he only has Westwood and Rose to beat it seems value, especially as Rose is covered in a previous bet. If you think Europe will retain the cup you can back Poulter at 7/4 to win his singles match which seems decent, though I appreciate it wont look so appetising should Rickie Fowler be drawn in the same match!
As for the score it is a bit of a lottery however 14.5 – 13.5 happens pretty regularly. More often than the 9/1 (to Europe) and 12/1 (to USA) might suggest. I am more ambitious though and a chance is taken on 18-10 to Europe at 33/1 and if you push it to 18.5 – 9.5 you get 50/1. I hope this isn’t the case but there is a chance this US team who although very talented lack the matchplay pedigree that the European team has. A tame walkover isn’t out of the equation as once the trophy starts slipping away teams can fold (happened in 2004 and 2006) and worth backing, if anything to compensate the disappointment of a anti climax.
Despite the pro European feeling I do feel this USA team has a fresher feel to it and more chance of prospering in Europe than previous attempts. Spieth, Fowler and Reed all represent the future of American Golf (no not the shop) and I would be considerably more worried had Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel been playing. As it is, they aren’t, so all thats left to do is to think of what chant might ring out in the Scottish glens come sunday afternoon…Bjorn to be wild?
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