Lots to reflect on in today's post, and plenty more to look forward to as we somehow find our way into the final month of 2014 (how did that happen?). It's a month which brings us Christmas and all of the great racing that accompanies that holiday, including the King George VI Chase, the Welsh National, the Lexus Chase in Ireland, and a plethora of Grade 1 novice races.
Before that, though, the roundup begins with a look back at an exciting weekend's action from Newbury and Fairyhouse.
The big race at Newbury was the Hennessy Gold Cup and, on paper, it looked a cracker. Without a recognised star player, the weights were fairly compressed, and it made for a superbly competitive field. Irish raider Djakadam was favoured at 5/1, but his lack of experience, or maturity, saw him outpaced, outstayed or outclassed - most likely a combination of the three - and he limped home in eighth.
Ahead of him, the progressive Many Clouds led the charge. Oliver Sherwood's seven-year-old Cloudings gelding has progressed well since switching to fences. Rated no better than 138 at the conclusion of his hurdling career, he ran off 151 in the Hennessy and looks likely to nudge 160 after reassessment. Whilst that would still leave him with a stone and more to find with the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth, he is the 'now' horse with upside potential.
There are others, of course, but let's dwell on Many Clouds for a moment longer, largely to indulge my small bet at huge odds 😉
Three Hennessy winners have shouldered 11-06 or more and gone on to run in the Gold Cup this century (Trabolgan was injured and did not line up). Their record in the Gold Cup that same season is 121. Denman won this race off 11-12 and then the Gold Cup in 2007/8, and he repeated the dose off the same top weight in 2009, before running second in the 2010 Gold Cup.
Bobs Worth, like Many Clouds, was seven when winning the Hennessy; and, like Many Clouds, he carried 11-06 to victory. However, while Bobs Worth had won the previous year's RSA Chase, Many Clouds was brought down in that when rating near the back. His form ties in closely with the winner of that race, however, he and O'Faolains Boy being separated by just a couple of lengths in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, over three miles.
His form suggests he wants a bit of cut in the ground, and that could be a big ask by the Friday of Cheltenham week, but his trainer believes that's not a necessity. Still, I'd like to see him match this level of form in a race run on terra firmer.
Moreover, Bobs Worth was rated 160 when winning his Hennessy, to Many Clouds' 151. Nevertheless, the distances horses were beaten in behind was significant with more than three lengths back to the game Houblon Des Obeaux in second, and nigh on twenty to the fourth horse, Monbeg Dude. With the notable exceptions of Houblon, carrying joint top weight, fith home Smad Place (11-10), and sixth best Unioniste (11-06), the remaining finishers were less encumbered by weight.
Indeed, of those at the head of the ratings tree in this race, Fingal Bay, Triolo d'Alene, Rocky Creek, Ballynagour, and Vino Griego were all pulled up.
My points in all this? Well, I'm not entirely sure in truth, but I'd draw these tentative conclusions:
1. In a year where they bet 8/1 the field in the Gold Cup, and 16/1 bar four, Many Clouds still looks fairly priced at 20/1. He has to step up into Grade 1 company now and that will tell us a lot. As things stand, his grinding style and generally good fencing makes him worth keeping on side, until he shows he can't mix it at the top level.
2. Houblon Des Obeaux ran a balls out blinder, and was the moral victor lugging 11-12. His Cheltenham Festival record in not great - 16th 4th 7th 9th - but his overall form profile is impressive, and he's a great credit to connections, notably trainer Venetia Williams, whose yard continues in fine fettle at the moment.
3. Smad Place is probably better in small fields and/or on quicker ground, where he can zip away from his rivals. Here he was taken off his feet a bit in the early go. I wouldn't give up on his Gold Cup prospects yet, but 33/1 is about right.
4. Most of the rest - National aspirants aside - have questions to answer, despite the excuses which are beginning to emerge (e.g. Fingal Bay bled).
Elsewhere on the Newbury card, a seriously under-cooked More Of That lost his unbeaten tag in the Long Distance Hurdle, when trailing in a tired third to Medinas and Cole Harden. The winner was impressive, travelling well throughout and cruising home. As a Festival winner (2013 Coral Cup), he has no problem with that track and his chance of beating More Of That and co in the 2015 World Hurdle may rest on the presence of the word 'soft' appearing somewhere in the going description.
Medinas' six wins have comprised three on soft, one on heavy, that Coral Cup win on good to soft, and a 'soft' novice hurdle at Fontwell, run on good. In seven further placed efforts, just one of those was on good ground, the rest being on muddier terrain.
This clearly was not the World Hurdle champion's running, but still, quotes of 4/1 best about a repeat victory wouldn't appeal to me at this stage. I'd rather take shorter when I've seen more of the 2014/15 version of More Of That. After all, any more of that from More Of That and he's a double figure price.
There was a lot to like about Silsol's smooth triumph in the handicap hurdle off 144, and this easy travelling sort might be one for the Martin Pipe Conditionals' race if he can handle the track. His eight British runs have all been on flat tracks, and the last seven of them have resulted in gold or silver, six of them for conditional riders.
Meanwhile over at Newcastle, the Fighting Fifth hurdle was won by Irving in good style. Although the margin of victory was less than two lengths, the manner of it - and the confidence of Irving's jockey, Nick Scholfield - was taking. He looks a more likely Aintree type than Cheltenham, with his five UK wins on flat(tish) tracks.
His two defeats were a last flight fall at flat Wincanton, when sure to be first or a close second; and a well beaten effort in the Supreme at undulating Cheltenham. It would be reckless to state unequivocally that Cheltenham won't suit, but I'd want to see some evidence that it will suit before considering him a contender in March.
Behind him, Aurore d'Estruval must be a strong player for the Mares' race, given doubts about the well-being of Annie Power. John Quinn's mare travelled to the front half a mile out and battled fairly well when challenged by the winner. The Mares' Hurdle looks an obvious target for her.
To Sunday, and a cracking card at Fairyhouse, featuring three Grade 1's. The opener was a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle, and it saw the debut of Triumph Hurdle favourite, Kalkir, trained by Willie Mullins.
Sent off at odds of 9/10, Kalkir cruised through the race, and was ready to pounce from the third last, most of the rest back-pedalling by that point. One who was not, was Dai Bando, who travelled as well as the jolly. But when Ruby asked Kalkir to quicken, he destroyed his field, and this was a very impressive effort. There having been just three lengths between six runners turning in, the first four were separated by eight, seven, and five and a half lengths by the line.
Triumph quotes now range from 5/1 (Coral, Stan) to 8/1 with Winner Sports, and that latter price looks reasonable in a race that these days normally goes to a fancied runner (biggest priced winner since the Fred Winter was incepted in 2005 was 10/1 Tiger Roll this year).
The Grade 1 Royal Bond was next, and another making their Irish debut after impressing in French bumpers was Allez Colombieres. Sadly, he broke a bone in his pelvis on the flat and had to be put down. That made it a truly bittersweet contest for trainer Willie Mullins, who also saddled the impressive winner, Nichols Canyon.
Graham Wylie had bought the Authorized gelding privately during the past year, with the formerly useful flat horse (rated 104+ on the level) trained by John Gosden for his wife before that. This was a second facile hurdle win and, while of course the main competition failed to finish, Nichols Canyon needed to make up as much ground as Tandem - another easy last time out winner - from mid-division to get the job done. That one could fare no better than a seventeen length fifth, and I was impressed with the winner.
Betting ante post on Mullins novices to win Cheltenham Festival races is a notoriously difficult game. The trainer has so many options in both the hurdle and chase divisions, and decisions are made on the weekend before the mid-March madness about where each will run. As such, the 7/1 about Douvan, who arguably achieved less when winning his maiden hurdle than did Nichols Canyon in winning his, is unappetizing.
Douvan may work the best at home, but the evidence of the race track gives Nichols Canyon the nod, especially given his proven ability to handle - if not necessarily favour - quicker ground. 14/1 would be attractive if Nichols Canyon was sure to be pitched at the Supreme, but he's not. As such, the 10/1 that Hills offer about him winning any race at the Festival would not be the worst wager on display. After all, winners of this race since 2008 have included Champion Hurdlers, Hurricane Fly and Jezki.
The second Grade 1 of the afternoon, this time for established hurdlers, was the Hatton's Grace. It was a moderate looking event for the grade, and was further weakened by the mid-race fall of Zaidpour. Little King Robin, the hopelessly named mare, took them along as she does, but was passed readily in the straight by Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson, the former recording an emotional G1 score for Sandra Hughes, daughter of the late Dessie.
Old boy Jetson had loomed up to the winner in the straight, but lack of race fitness eventually told, and he succumbed to a four length defeat. Jessie Harrington's lad is rising ten now, which will make life difficult in the Pertemps Final, his presumed target, but he was only two lengths back in this year's renewal, albeit that he'll be a stone higher now. Plenty of time to manage his mark from here, however, and I'd be wary of backing him between now and the Festival if the market vibes are anything other than hot.
The last of the three top grade races was the Drinmore Novice Chase. As one might expect, this has a rich tradition of unearthing very good chasers. But it has yet to find a Festival winner from its winners. Beaten Drinmore nags have prevailed at the Fez, with Bostons Angel taking the RSA after being fourth in this, and Forpadydeplasterer winning the Arkle having run up here.
That will give hope to The Tullow Tank's legion fans. He was never in the hunt here, and was a very flat fifth, unable to quicken. It might be that he needs further - like Bostons Angel - or maybe he needs shorter - like Forpadydeplasterer. Or, perhaps, he's just not quite the horse he looked like he could be, like... well, like many of the horses that have run in this contest.
Let us not detract from a fine performance by the winner. Valseur Lido fair hacked up, and his form is rock solid. Aside from a blip in the Supreme in March, his only other defeat was when second to Faugheen in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle. The form of that race has worked out spectacularly well, with the first three home all unbeaten since.
Whether Valseur Lido is as good on top of the ground is the question as, although his two defeats were in the two hottest races he contested, they were also the pair - from nine - where the word 'good' appeared in the going description. As such, he wouldn't appeal at this stage for Cheltenham.
The concluding bumper saw an eye-catching performance from a first time starter called Identity Thief. Trained by Henry de Bromhead, he was expected to improve for the run in a hot looking race, as evidenced by a starting price of 25/1. But his acceleration to get into contention, and the way he subsequently pulled away at the close - albeit against a tiring rival - was impressive. And, with the promise of a good bit more to come, he's worth a 20/1 quote for the Champion Bumper, though it's not a race I tend to bet in on the day, let alone four months beforehand!
It was a fascinating weekend of sport and, with the Tingle Creek kicking off a huge December of jump racing on Saturday, there's plenty 'more of that' to look forward to.
Now then, although less high profile, there were some other rather tasty winners on Saturday. Gold subscribers have perennial access to a report called Trainer Jockey Combination, or TJ Combo for short. And on Saturdays, all free registered users can see this report as it is that day's Feature of the Day.
Well, it had a rather fine day on the winner-finding front as the image below demonstrates.
Those are the settings I use, and they're the ones I recommend as defaults in the user manual. I personally look at the Course Form 2009+ view, and the 14 Day Form view. On the recent form view on Saturday, users were notified of the following hot TJ Combo's.
Two winners, at 11/4 (Royal Regatta, very well backed) and 7/1 (Bertie Boru). And our mate, Houblon Des Obeaux, 2nd at 50/1. Not bad, right?
If you're not a free registered user, why on earth not? More than 4,000 people now are, and they're enjoying freeness every day. Today, for instance, they can view Stat of the Day, our flagship one a day service which is currently 93 points up in 2014. From a single one point bet Monday to Friday.
The full Feature of the Day breakdown is as follows:
Feature of the Day
Monday – Stat of the Day
Tuesday – The Shortlist report
Wednesday – Trainer Statistics report
Thursday – Instant Expert tab
Friday – Horses for Courses report
Saturday – Trainer/Jockey Combo report
As well as that, free registered users get one Race of the Day, where all Gold tabs are unlocked.
And they also get Double Dutch, our other tipping piece (Mon-Sat) which has just concluded a rather sexy November. These are the figures Chris provided me earlier this morning:
In November we had 25 days action = 50 races.
2 non-runners meant we had 98 selections.
We found 31 winners over the month, 31.63% of our runners won and we had the winner in 62% of our featured races.
We made 32.82 points profit from a 50 point outlay at an ROI of 65.64%
That's from a free service, which is currently 79.02 units up in just over a year. It, like Stat of the Day, can be found from the 'Horse Racing Tips' menu item at the top of every page, or from the left hand side of the home page at www.geegeez.co.uk
While on the subject of winners, congratulations are in order for two geegeez.co.uk subscribers.
First, Geraint Williams was the winner of the survey prize draw last week. There was a fantastic response, with 1,200 of you taking a few minutes to answer a couple of questions. The draw was to win either £150 cash or a Lifetime subscription to Geegeez Gold. This was GW's reply when I asked which he'd like:
Well done Geraint, and thank you very much to him and all of you who took time to respond.
Our other winner today is the November Tipping League Champion, who is prekarius, aka Panu Kinnari. Well done sir, your ten wins from 34 tips, for a profit of 636 points wins you £100 cash and the collection of international racing programmes.
December's competition is open now, and if you're registered on the site - free or Gold - you're eligible to play. Once logged in, you can use the 'TIP' icon on the race card against the horse you fancy to tip it. What could be simpler?
Something else new for the start of December is a set of banner ads, which you might have noticed at the top of the page... or the bottom of it. As development has largely finished for the year, it's time to think about telling more people about Gold, and what it can do for horse racing fans.
I ran a contest and had over 20 designs to choose from. The one you see below was the clear winner. It perfectly sums up what Gold is about: turning the odds in your favour. No shouty headlines about profitable tips (although we have those), no boasting about the best ratings (although we have a case to make there too), nothing about the best cards on the net (although we unquestionably have those).
Just a striking blue box, with a clear statement across it, and an invitation to take a ten day trial. If you haven't already done that, you really ought to! Clicking the banner below will get you started.
Do you like it?
Also on site is a post by former geegeez news writer, and now occasional correspondent, Ian Sutherland. He's teaming up with trainer David Dennis to bring some behind the scenes insights into a racing stable. And, in this introductory post, he invites your questions to be put to David and his team.
So, if there's anything you've always wondered about the sport, here's your chance to get an answer straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.