Category Archives: The Sport of Kings and Hobby of Paupers

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

Hoof It

The blog has not had much time or inclination to entertain, or be entertained, lately but I did manage to watch the Nassau Stakes and the Stewards Cup from Goodwood last Saturday. Aftertiming is a disgusting habit as all punters will know, nonetheless, after not having had a bet for ages I was very much taken with Hoof It’s appearance and was therefore prepared to overlook both his joint favouritism and top-weight of ten stone.

Looking at the horse, with his deep chest and powerful engine, I concluded he would be well able to carry the weight. And he was, and more impressively than I could have hoped. He was a joy to watch, and you should take those when you can in my experience, as they can come few and far between in a gambler’s life.

The horse’s owners are supplementing him for the Nunthorpe @ the Ebor Festival I think. Good.

Hoof It and Kieren Fallon coming home well - ears pricked

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

The Mile…

Ricahrd Hannon Jr. with Canford Cliffs

Is an absolutely classic distance for a horse race combining, as it does, speed with a touch of stamina.

Today’s Lockinge Stakes at Newbury is being considerately run at 3.45 so, providing they get on with it at Wembley and there’s no pesky added time, the race will be run as they blow the whistle for half-time in the FA Cup Final; perfect for people who can be at neither event.

Truth be told, I would love to see Dick Turpin and Canford Cliffs in the flesh – it is on my list of stuff for this year. Whether it is just those two that battle it out with Twice Over today, as the market has it, or if it involves other good horses that have been overlooked in the hype it is definitely a must-see race.

Canford is the favourite, available at 10/11 on as I write, Dick follows at 10/3 and Twice Over is knocking about at around 15/2, from 8 earlier. Despite the clear market message making Canford the clear favourite because he has that hallmark of quality in his turn of foot that devastates fields as he comes late, because jockey Richard Hughes waxes lyrical about him and because of the esteem his trainer obviously holds the horse in, I would not steam into him. The facts are that, in two out of three meetings, Dick has actually come home ahead of Canford and last season the latter had a couple of races before he hit his undeniably brilliant stride. Dick has had a prep run (win) in a Group 2 at Sandown and although I have heard it said he may prefer a bit more cushioning underfoot than there will be at Newbury today, he gives the impression to me that all ground comes alike.

Twice Over? Well I have been once, twice and thrice through the mill with that animal and you never know how he is going to run. I don’t know if he is a moody sort, or what, but I just cannot trust him entirely. I do back him sometimes, but however much he wins I will never get back the faith that slipped away as he failed to pass Raven’s Pass in the Craven a few years ago. Apart from that, one wonders if the mile is his trip.

So, it all adds up to one thing. I have to back the Turpin and some of that will be money that loves how he runs a tough and honest race. Yes his flashier compadre Canford could come more eye-catchingly late on but Dick Turpin’s runs are all heart and that is how I like it.

Dick Turpin: the heart of a lion according to the trainer's son

You never quite know what a day might hold

Ely Cathedral

In my case, on this day, it was this.

And a fruitless hunt for Oliver Cromwell’s old gaff.

Was he good or bad my co-pilot asked?

Oh, a bit of both I suppose, I said.

From the back the 8 year old piped up: he was warty…
Christmas is sinful…music is sinful…dancing is sinful…

We played David Guetta on the way back.

Old Ironsides must be spinning in his grave.

All the Queen’s Horses

I can’t list them all, but she’s got a few. Whenever I back them they don’t win, when I leave them alone they do. In the last week she’s had two winners: Tactician and Quick Reaction, and a hat trick of seconds.

The reason I mention her is not for any rabid royalist reason but because after the first race at Newbury last Friday (after her Royal Exchange had been beaten a head into second and in its turn beaten my selection Shafgaan into third) I noticed her in the paddock.

I am a bit slow off the mark at times. I was looking at the winner and wondering why so many people were gathered further down the paddock near the runners up. It turned out to be because that was where the Royal Huddle with Teddy Grimthorpe, Hannon Senior & Hannon Junior (who had had the sense to get out of the awful asparagus soup-coloured suit from the day before) and her Majesty was taking place. Hannons made way for Charlton and the Huddle moved up the paddock so I was able to take what I thought was a nice enough snap to show the kids – who were of course not at all interested.

But first, see how the Racing Post shows The Queen, albeit having been beaten a head into second, having a lovely day out with her runners:

Nonetheless, being a class act she managed to look perfectly happy as she moved on to Roger Charlton to consider the chances of High Constable. As it turned out, seconditis can affect Royal Personages too as this animal (carrying my cash) also took runner-up spot behind the incredibly smart Meezaan (who you need to watch out for as he will probably make up into a Group horse).

The most shiny handbag in the land

And in a rather obvious segue I thought I would just tip my hat in the direction of Malcolm Mclaren who said

Rock and roll doesn’t necessarily mean a band. It doesn’t mean a singer, and it doesn’t mean a lyric, really. It’s that question of trying to be immortal.

This remix and post were brought the to the blog by the squirrelwholosthernuts channel (but they always turn up in the end).

A Sporting Summit in the Snug

Despite some disapproving interruptions, the blog’s resident Grand National expert AMB and I were able to run the once over the field the other afternoon.

Well, to be truthful, we only had time for the once over over two of the field (again). No matter, this is the summary of the insightful and professional discussion. Really, I am at a loss to understand why there were no cameras there…

Niche Market has weight yes, but mitigating this stat is the fact that the top of the handicap has become increasingly compressed over recent years – more and more horses are carrying the deal-breaking 11st 1lb+ stone. Our expert feels this could be the year we break the weight stat barrier. The remarkable Hedgehunter won with 11st 1lb in 2005, but you have to go digging to find Corbiere carrying 11st 4lb in 1983 – all of 27 years ago. Proving the bus rule, Grittar won the year before that with 11st 5lb. Of more concern is the horse’s entry at Cheltenham. Tut tut. The other thing the horse lacks, and can do nothing about until next year, is course experience.

On the other hand li’l ol’ State of Play has the Aintree factor and is green to go across the other criteria.  I think the only thing he needs is some luck in running and ground no softer than last year’s good to soft.

Definitely State of Play with that blue rope

That’s it. We moved swiftly on to the Wayne Bridge / John Terry non-handshake before the other house guests ears began to bleed.

P.S. Cover them house guests – after I wrote the above the Blog Expert forwarded this interesting link about the compressed handicap from the Official Handicapper.  I swear those two are hand in glove.

Not enough hours in the day…

…that is what I blame my abject punting display yesterday on.

Once again the world turned and I was slightly behind it.  Leaving late on account of the 8 a.m. inspection, missing the first and not being able to get a copy of the Post until I was on course all meant I had no chance for some proper study.  This is what you need when entering the bear-pit and I had a)  forgotten b) little opportunity – which was my own fault.

Time was on a Saturday, when the girls were little and had naps in the day, that I would take the dog out early doors and buy the Post.  I also used to buy the ill-fated Sporting something or another in its brief life.  Then I would read the form and read the trainers’ comments which, as a novice, I set great store by.  Then I would take the dog out again via the bookies and place my bets.

The kids never sleep during the day now, not even when they are ill.  On weekends they like to do stuff.  Come on dog walks, hang out, watch films.  I knocked the sticking my head in a paper habit on a Saturday a long time ago because it was selfish and didn’t read well.  Consequently, I have come to terms with Saturday, the biggest punting day of the week, being my missed opportunity so to speak.  I’m ok with that in the comfort of my own home.  Doing a nearly 8 hour round trip with your dear mother counting her wonga in the dusk is a little harder to take!  I don’t begrudge anyone a winner though.

I was able to read the Racing Post last night at bedtime.  Therein were  some of the nuggets I could have done with on course.  In one small field hurdle race I had a nice theory about the well-bred Fiulin, trained by Evan Williams (in form) and was somewhat seduced by some fancy entries (Champion/World Hurdle).  This fella downed tools before the home turn on the hill and came home last.  As he dragged his sorry, and as it became evident fat, arse past the stands to explain himself to his connections I popped him in the mental notebook “will come on for the run”.  If I had acquainted myself with the trainer’s view I would have know this:

“Time has conspired against us. It’s now the end of January and we haven’t been able to run him, so instead of going for a Mickey Mouse race and learning nothing, we are going for a good race to hopefully find out where we are with him. He has done a lot of schooling (makemeadiva notes: the beast jumped nicely it must be said), but he is a big horse and will come on a bundle for whatever he does here.”

So basically, I paid money to find out what I had already paid money to find out when I bought the paper.  This, incidentally, is what trainer, Robin Dickin, said of the race winner Restless Harry who laid it down from the front and earned the only applause of the day from me.

“I have been riding horses for 40 years but the feel he gave me when I rode him on Tuesday was the best I’ve had. It was an extraordinary piece of work so I have to be expecting a good run. He is in better order than before (his last race) and was hardly trained or fed – this time he’s highly trained and well fed, so I hope I haven’t messed him up!”

Of course, not all trainers’ comments are equal.  Paul Nicholls did not fancy Taranis, who delivered at 20/1 (well done to one Ms AMB 🙂 )after 766 days off the track since breaking down in the 2007 King George, saying:

“…it’s been a hard road back and I have yet to see the old ability’s still there.”

Yep the ability’s still there Paul and Fiulin is porky sort who thinks he doesn’t fancy actually running fast after about 1m6f. 

It was all there, shame I didn’t read it first.

On the upside, I saw a Red Kite and Buzzard on the way out (these are impressive birds of prey and deserve to be proper nouns).  I met some old and new friends on course and saw a fantastic yellow moon on the way home. 

Oh, and mother bought the chips.

Mine was on the M40

Old Friends

We have a large carbuncular library within walking distance and I seem to spend a lot of time there for one thing and another (usually work-related).  Helpfully, someone has the task of picking out new publications and sticking them facing forwards on a shelf near the exit.  This means I can grab a book as I leave without having to take a turn round and up and down the library.

I was very pleased to find “Freud On Course” by Clement Freud on the shelf yesterday, so I snaffled it up and am really enjoying it.  His column in the Racing Post on a Saturday was, without fail, funny and I miss reading it.  I was once in love with Brazilian, coke-snorting riding instructor (not the one who sent me to my doom on Spider!) and, as a Freud family friend, he was in possession of a racehorse that Clement had given him in a fit of generosity.  I never made it down to Epsom to see the horse as the affair never really got off the ground (just as well all things considered, although I did not think so at the time), but I wish I had, because it would have been nice to have patted the nose of a Freud horse and got some more back story.

Anyhow, if there is anything that a prospective or current gambler should consider it is this pearl on page 15 of the book:

“Do you mind losing more than you enjoy winning?  If the answer is in the affirmative, find another hobby.”

I don’t mind losing (mainly) but I will say this lad on the left tested the maxim to the very limit in that Champion Hurdle a few years back.  Nonetheless I have a grudging fondness for the old monkey and wish Harchibald a long and happy retirement.  Word is he may tip up at the Dublin Horse Show with his old mucker Brave Inca.  Rudi’s Irish mates saw the spectacle last year and said the racehorses stole the show – now that might be worth getting on a plane for (after a handful of Valium and a couple of Jamesons).

Harchibald following Clement Freud's advice

Mine’s a Hennessy

Much as I try to ignore this jump racing gear (and succeed for the most part during the week) the magnetic effect of the graded contests and the stars that participate would make a nonsense of my blog’s title if I didn’t even mention them.   During the flat season I can write a preview at the 48 hour declaration stage, providing the weather outlook is fair, with the jumps I have to mug up on the morning.

For once Thommo had something enlightened to say on the Morning Line, re Denman:

“We all know he can carry the weight, but can he give it away?”

Well put.  If I may borrow from Heaven 17’s Look of Love lyric for a moment:

“I don’t know the answer to that question.  If I knew I would tell you…”

Well I would.  What I do know is that everyone says Denman is well.  What I know as well is that he is the class act in the field.  What we know too is that he has not quite re-scaled the heights of the season before last since his heart procedure and that he was not foot perfect when we last saw him at Aintree, which is why his price was around 9/2 this morning. 

Barber’s Shop is probably the improving horse to watch for, but I don’t know enough about him to comment so I won’t.  I also know that Gone To Lunch comes top in the Timeform weight adjusted ratings and should come home well.  I would like Denman to win, but the fact of the matter is that he is giving away absolute lumps of lead to quality horses.  For example, State of Play (who was the subject of a midweek gamble from 33s into 16s) who is a former Hennessy winner himself is getting 2lbs shy of 2 stone from the Tank.  Even if the weight doesn’t stop Denman winning, it gives some other good horses a good chance of getting nearer him.

Frankly I don’t know what to do!  My shortlist consists of Denman, Barber’s Shop, Gone to Lunch and State of Play.  State of Play and I go back the furthest and the money and featherweight he carries is encouraging, but I am not keen on backing against Denman.  Maybe it is two bets – win and each way.   Anyway good luck to all the field. 

N.B. If you are betting each way in the race go to Skybet or VC who are the firms offering 1/4 the price for the first 5.

P.S.  I really like the look of Solwhit in the Fighting Fifth @ Newcastle and that was before Barry Dennis made Binocular his Bismarck!