Category Archives: Punting

More Pier

And why not.

On a side note: today was 2000 Guineas day. I had a bet for the first time since… I can’t remember when.

I lost.

On the upside it was a free bet and I did not chase it.

So yes, some things stay the same, as much as they change…

These are some kind of aerials, or radio masts on the pierhead. I imagine they are used by the RNLI for communications, but I don’t know. There is a tall ship coming to the pierhead at the end of the month. I am going to visit. I like ships; less sure about the actual sailing. Fortunately, that won’t be necessary to go aboard Atlantis. Thoughtfully they are holding something called ‘Open Ship’ as well as doing actual sailings. I am calling the expedition: research.

pieraerials

I also did the annual grass sowing in the garden. I am sure the neighbours were laughing at me, or heavily sighing. But, I will have grass come June.

Vive l’herbe!

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The Greatest Show on Turf: Gold Cup Day (start spreading the news)

There’s something about Gold Cup Day. For me, Champion Hurdle Day used to be the most nerve-wracking day of the Festival because it was Day One and I was always in love: Rooster Booster, Detroit City, Harchibald, Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace. It was the race I had invested in most heavily emotionally, and sometimes financially, because it felt more like a bit of me. It spoke to my passion for flat racing and as a lot of the contenders had flat racing pedigrees I had another angle in on the form. By Gold Cup day, I was too knackered to do anything more than enjoy the last championship race.

Then a few years ago in a conversation with a fellow punter, sitting in those elevated seats overlooking the course at another Cheltenham meeting, I mentioned that, to me, the Champion Hurdle had started to feel more like a sacrifical altar than a race. As I said it, I was looking out towards Cleeve Hill and imagining all those Champion Hurdlers coming round the top bend. It was one of those things you say, but weren’t expecting to. Since then, Tuesday at the Festival has seemed a little less vitally important.

Gold Cup Day, now on a Friday, stands alone. It never has seemed like a sacrificial altar to me and I don’t want it to start now! After all, if you’ve (the horse) have made it there with a serious chance its just like that line in the Sinatra song New York, New York about making it anywere…King of the Hill, Head of the Heap, Top of the List, King of the Hill la, la, la…

Sorry. No doubt about it, the Gold Cup is a culmination. It is the culmination of the working week, it is the culmination of our National Hunt season, it is the culmination of the Festival and it is the culmination of a jumps horse’s career.

To culminate means to bring to a point of greatest intensity or completion, from the Latin root culminare meaning to crown, or culmen meaning the summit. And there is more. It also has a meaning relating to astronomy. To culminate in astronomical terms means that a star, or other celestial body, reaches the highest point above an observer’s horizon.

Gold Cup Day has its own Star today and I, along with most of the racing fraternity, are hoping beyond hope to see the culmination of Kauto Star’s most magnificent career. If he wins, I will surely be enjoying my own culmination: following the Star into my own celestial meridian.

Conveniently down the road from my house

P.S. If Kauto Star doesn’t win, please let him come back safe with all the rest, and I know we will love him just as much, if not more, as before. And I will still play the Frank Sinatra tune tonight and toast the greatest jump horse I have ever seen.

‘Union of Stingy Workaholics…’

How feckless those Greeks are in some version or another I hear more, or less, every day.

So, as the Germans vote on the eurozone rescue package, I thought I’d post this map and accompanying blog ‘Europe According to Greece. And Sunlight’ it kind of puts the whole thing in a funny, yet perceptive, perspective.

And the blogmeister (alphadesigner.com) is pretty even-handed in terms of national stereotypes; if you click through to the Mapping Stereotypes link you’ll get the World According to Every Nation, nearly.

Of course, this business of the euro, national debt, and the likelihood of Greece eventually defaulting is a serious business. As the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calls for further integration to save the whole shebang the eurozone continues to creak like a ship about to go down in a storm.

Personally, I think his proposed 0.1% tax on financial sector transactions is a top idea, but only if it were implemented globally to stop those crafty bankers scurrying off to some offshore tax haven to conduct themselves shadily. And that’s not going to happen because, as much as humankind thinks it advances, we can never put aside our own backyard concerns to think holistically about the good of the planet and all its people. Maybe we’re just not wired like that anyway. How hard is it to keep in mind the family on the rocks down the road when you’ve got your own to worry about?

St Leger: the oldest classic

For various reasons my heart’s not been in the flat season this year. The truth is that I have barely watched a race since Derby Day. I’ve turned the racing on just now and absence has made the grass seem greener than ever before and the jockeys’ silks buzz out of the tv screen.

Re: bets, I’ve had a few… Then again, (this season) too few to mention.

I might have one later on Blue Bunting, or I might not. Either way I will be with her in the
St Leger. Fillies don’t win the race much, but of them all I think the drying ground won’t inconvenience her and I like her robust profile. I’ve got to finish the post now because I want to watch Born to Sea, Sea the Stars half-brother, make his debut in ten minutes at the Curragh (2.40).

Blue Bunting: unusual tail

Derby Day: Part II

The Queen *curtsies* not Carlton House *admires nostrils*

Well, well, well. Kieren Fallon comes a cropper in the law courts.

Native Khan’s owner, Ibrahim Araci, has been successful in his appeal to prevent Fallon from riding Recital this afternoon and the sensational story has usurped the favourite in the market, the Queen’s horse, in the racing headlines.

Going into the race it has all been about Her Maj’s Carlton House and his twanged leg tendon. Now we will be hanging off our seats going round Tattenham Corner to see if Fallon’s intended mount, Recital, is running like a Derby winner and Native Khan’s Araci will be wanting right to be on his side for the second time in a day in the UK.

Imagine the equivalent in another sport? Injunction prevents footballer playing in a Cup Final. Legal ramifications may abound. But that’s for another day.

Today we have the Queen, the Aga Khan, the Turk and the Irish, plus a billion punters. What story are they going to back this afternoon with so many to choose from.

Now, with a little help from the judge, one of the most intriguing narratives of the day belongs to Recital.
Pat Smullen is forgoing a date in Tramore, Ireland this afternoon and hot-footing over to the Epsom Downs to partner Recital. I don’t really rate the form of that horse myself – Fallon may know better than me of course, but I would like to see Native Khan come home in front of that one, for both the craic and on pedigree.

Then there is Carlton House, belonging to the Queen. She has never had the Derby winner, so a first winner for her and a sixth winner for her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, would be a nice headline for the Sunday papers. Better yet that she saves her first winner of the Derby for her Diamond Jubilee year (that’s 2012)?

Best story: Native Khan wins, making Fallon a liar and a fool
Second best: The Queen wins and a nation rejoices
Third best: Recital wins and the British justice system prevails

Ok, not buying that analysis? Try this instead.

Ballydoyle run 4 – yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn. Of the four, I would take Seville.

I can’t have anything by Montjeu today so that narrows things down nicely. And I find I am bored of typing now so I will leave it as a combination forecast involving Native Khan, Seville and Vadamar. Oh I am nothing if not rigorous in my analysis…

Native Khan's sire: Azamour - an exceptional looking horse

Trap 4

Jamie, a friend and contributor on the comments here, asked me yesterday about the English Greyhound Derby which starts this Friday night at Wimbledon. Specifically, he wanted, not unreasonably, a dog or two to have an interest in through the competition.

Well that got me thinking a bit. First I thought: I have absolutely no idea. Then I thought: how did that happen?

Used to be, I followed the dogs properly. One New Year the Racing Post’s dog man Jim Cremin sent me a bottle of champagne for a short piece I wrote proposing Spiridon Louis as the 2007 Greyhound of the Year. The six-bend Spiridon Louis went on to take the title over four-bend sensation Barnfield on Air. That was four years ago for goodness sake. Where has the time gone, I wonder? Now I can’t even come up with one vaguely hopeful ante-post dog!

Spiridon Louis

Back in the day I went to Wimbledon to see the great Westmead Hawk in the preliminary heats, before he took his second Derby title in 2006. Going to the dogs at the Plough Lane track is a proper cage fighting atmosphere, nothing like the much-missed art deco class of the Stow. Now I have watched this victory plenty enough, it might even have been on the blog before, but watching it again I still cannot get over how the dog reads his way through the race.

Drawing Trap 4, as Westmead Hawk had, is simply asking for trouble. If you want to back a skimpily priced favourite in a dog race (The Hawk was 4/7F for this gig) you would want to take the Red Jacket, Trap 1 on the rail. You would be backing the One Dog to ping the lid, grab the rail, job done. Or, you might take the Stripes of a Wide Runner to at least stay out of the potential for general scrummaging on the bends and then pick up off the last. You would not, unless you were backing Westmead Hawk, especially want the Trap 4 where all kinds of squeezing, bumping, baulking and checking of runs awaits the Mid runners.

Westmead Hawk

And then you watch this race and he sets my heart in motion every time.

The Hawk traps fast, about level, then he comes into the rail, but no he’s back out wide, and then he makes his move and blasts his run through the middle of the Orange and Blue Jackets to win by three-quarters of a length on the line. And the last bit is my favourite, not on the line, but the bit where he powers into that nearly non-existent gap between two tightly-packed greyhounds, and then there is nothing else but the hulk of his shoulders devouring the track until he noses through the laser beam, certain in the knowledge that he is the fastest dog in the land.

Ah, I was gone for a moment there… When I was lucky enough to see Westmead Hawk a few weeks before this final, he made it even tighter on the line, but he was still there when it counted. And now I have my own dog who runs in the belief that he is the fastest dog in the park, but is so nervous that when gets tired he, rather than fronting up to his invited pursuer, hides in a shrubbery and waits for me to rescue him.

So Joe, I ain’t got no dogs just yet for you but, when I do, there is a good chance their dad will be this lad…

Luck: probability taken personally?

Or, how I came to have two rabies vaccines in my fridge at home, be in a car accident in Marmaris (nothing to recommend that place in my view), and read a passport as valid when, in fact it was two years out of date…

That’s my opening gambit for now. I can’t quite bring myself to relate the events of the last few weeks in the usual manner. I am not a great believer in accidents or chance, but I do trust some science, a little psychology and a lot of maths. And then I also believe in other more mystical things that don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny: they are my articles of faith if you like.

So later, and believe me I would rather do this now, I will pull out the cadaver of Lady Luck from my fridge and give her a good old dissection, but for now I have to write 3000 words on Curriculum Theory and Development (with graphs).

State of Play: a legend in our eyes

When I say ‘our’ I mean his connections and mine. Turning in at Aintree yesterday (and isn’t that just the longest, hardest to look at run-in in the world) he looked to be merely a finisher, well down the field. Then somehow and I don’t know how, because rightly the camera was focussing on the monumentally brave, from the front, run of the winner Ballabriggs, the little bay by Hernando managed to finish 4th.

So when State of Play’s trainer, Evan Williams, said he was a ‘legend’ for finishing in the top four in the race for the third year in a row, I made him right. I like Evan, I met him once at Cheltenham and we had a chat about an ex-flat racehorse that Williams had sent over hurdles and coaxed a win out of. I think the horse was called Spartacus, or I’m Spartacus, or something; not that it matters. Williams had said a few days before the race that he didn’t think his horse was quite up to winning the National in any case, a fact that had passed me by, which was just as well as I might have thought twice about my each way bet @ 28/1. Anyway it was good that Ballabriggs won for the McCain family in the trademark Red Rum noseband. It was less good that the winner had such a hard time he had to receive oxygen on the track and then there is the sad fact that the race claimed the lives of two horses: Dooney’s Gate and Ornais. In an earlier race on the card jockey Peter Toole took a nasty fall and is in a critical condition in hospital with a head injury; we can only wish him well.

It is a hard race the National, and it is a hard game, the jumps. The bad news sort of takes it out of you a bit, so I will leave today’s post with the words of Evan Williams on State of Play’s performance and why he sees him, rightly, as a legend.

To be associated with a horse that has done it and done this much for my career and our yard, I will never have another horse that has done what he has done for me.

He is a very, very sweet horse and will always have a very special place in my heart. It is a difficult task to be placed in one National but to have done it three years on the bounce is an incredible endorsement of how tough and genuine the horse is.

He had a great start and was first crossing the Melling Road and was shuffled back down the field but he had a storming finish as guts and sheer determination of that little horse kept him going.

*wipes away tear*

Him coming back next year is something I would have to to give plenty of thought to. It would be silly of me to say what I will do next year now.

Evan, please don’t bring the little horse back next year, he’s done enough. They’ve all done enough.

\o/ The Flat is Back \o/

Perhaps not quite in the *UK, but Ireland’s flat turf season got under way last Sunday; the first race being my favourite kind, a 2yo maiden which was awarded to my pick Whip Rule (10/1) by the Stewards. A win is a win as they say. Then last night Dylan Thomas had his first runner ever: Snowflake Dancer who won very narrowly at Dundalk over 5 furlongs. Today, I can hardly contain myself; not only do we have the Dubai World Cup but also our own Winter Derby at Lingfield.

Now of course, the Dubai card is the one that captures all the interest: will Twice Over manage to win? I hope so. I am more taken up with this horse, Nideeb, who goes in the Winter Derby. Nideeb has to contend with the morning money for the mare Pachattack, and the quality veteran Dansili Dancer. My first ever pin-up was a horse – Black Beauty – this horse is my idea of a very beautiful animal. I will be backing him on that basis alone.

Nideeb at the Rowley Mile

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By the by, last night I was getting my gambling eye in for today and had a bit of luck on the all-weather evening meetings at Dundalk and Wolverhampton. Teeth gnashingly, I backed a horse called Wrecking Crew to win in one race, after my sister who comments on here from time to time. The Wrecking Crew was duly beaten into second. I totally missed the very obvious reverse forecast until it was pointed out to me later. The race was won by Barton Bounty, my sister’s full commenting moniker: The Wray Barton Wrecking Crew.

I am certain she will not give a flying fig either way this morning. After having a right rum do with her back recently: bed-bound for days, crutches, tramadol and everything, a very grateful client has purchased her an iPad 2. If only I had invested more wisely last night I could have joined the queue for one too…

(Am now thinking a Twice Over, Cape Blanco reverse forecast might do the trick.)

*We have a 2yo maiden to open @ Kempton this afternoon. My fancy will be the favourite from the Turner yard.

When snow is a red herring: the UK economy contracts

I am sure I am not the only person to snort with disgust when the media report today’s figures, from the Office of National Statistics, that show a “shock” contraction of 0.5% in the UK’s economy in the last quarter of 2010?

How can it be a shock when ever since the Coalition cobbled themselves together in May they have been taking money out of the economy, meaning that most of us have less to spend, and that what we need to buy costs more.  It’s a simple equation that means we consumers cannot afford to grow the economy out of recession.  And because our version of capitalism has been so closely linked to excessive consumerism – I’d say the model is in trouble.

From April more public sector workers will hit the scrapheap; that will take more money out of circulation and so on until down the plughole we will go.  Shrinking the state has been one of George Osborne’s long-standing ideologies before he got his mitts on the public purse and his dogged persistence in pursuing that aim, before industry is in a position to expand to fill the gap, is at best short-sighted and at worst downright vandalistic.

The equation is simple about our own spending and so is the model of swift action by the coalition: they want to get the pain out of the way in time for the country’s economy to have taken a turn for the better in time for the next election.  George can’t afford to hang about because he wants the glory run.  I don’t think it’s coming.  The devastating effects of the cuts and inflation are kicking in now and private enterprise is not going to be able to pick up the slack in time for there to be a quick upturn in the economy.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the state of the economy has given the coalition carte blanche to viciously shrink the state in short order not just for our own good and to pay off the nation’s debt (economists say we are not even going start touching that for another 5 years), but to fit with certain politicians’ pre-existing ideas about how economies and countries should be run which are then blindly applied.  A scientist would look at the experiment so far and observe that it isn’t working in the way they had predicted.  Unless Osborne knows that we (yes us, not just some thing called the economy) are going to go through this and is lying.

Instead  Osborne just blames the snow for the downturn in the quarter that included Christmas: well you may as well just say leaves on the line George, leaves on the line…