Aintree and the Masters: Sporting Heroes and Villains

It's been a monumental sporting weekend, dear reader, what with the world's greatest race and much of the world's favourite golf tournament. And what stark contrasts they presented - to this viewer at least. (There was also the small matter of the FA Cup semi-finals, but they seem to have been lost in the general flux, unless you're a Pompey fan of course!)

The breakneck pedal-to-the-metal harum scarum of the Grand National is about as far from the staid, measured meter of the mental toolkit required to pull on the green jacket as winner of the Masters from Augusta as the sporting spectrum can accommodate.

And yet how well this 'odd couple' engaged me over the weekend.

Firstly, let's take a look back at the Grand National. And what an absolute thriller it was! As far as I could tell, there were very few hard luck stories (unless you backed King John's Castle, who planted at the start; or another McManus runner, Can't Buy Time, who was the victim of the softest unseated rider I've ever seen at the Canal Turn).

Curiously, if that was tough luck for the greatest supporter of jump racing, then all was to be evened out as Don't Push It - under a determined and perfectly timed AP McCoy - prevailed relatively comfortably by the lollypop.

McCoy had clearly been embroiled in the 'never won the National' nonsense that envelops him this time annually, and he made a mockery of previous protestations that 'it was just another race' when breaking down in front of an audience of millions.

Now, I don't know about you, but I like my champions humble. I like them to know they're good, and to show they're good, but not to say they're good.

McCoy is different gravy in this matter. His records just belittle virtually anything ever achieved by anyone before in the sport of National Hunt racing. Over 3,000 winners, 15 times champion jockey, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And then he comes on telly, and says something like, "maybe my daughter will be proud of me now", as though all the other things didn't matter. As though winning the Grand National was better than 3,000 winners, better than fifteen championships, better than... well, remember what Mick Fitzgerald said?!

As it turns out, I suspect McCoy's tears were of relief more than anything else. That glaring omission, that gorilla-sized monkey on his back had been shaken off somewhere around Becher's second time around, and the man who had won almost everything became the man who has won everything.

It was a family affair, with McCoy's wife, Chanelle (a wholesome looking lass, I have to say!), and baby Eve - as well as his ma and da' - foremost in his thoughts.

Contrast that if you will with his golfing equivalent, one Mr Eldrick Woods. Tiger, as he's better known, is a uniquely talented golfer. To play as utterly recklessly and disrespectfully as he did yesterday in the final round of the Masters, and yet still tie for fourth (having not played a competitive tournament for months), is testimony to his ability.

But the way he comported himself, cussing and hastily three-putting, was abominable. They love him in the States and indeed globally, but I have to say this man is on a mission to publicly self-destruct.

He was clearly not ready to return to golf. His philandering past is as far from the tight-knit McCoy family unit as it is possible to imagine, and the inner turmoil / peace that each bears as they go about their respective business, was etched all over their respective faces.

Tiger, previously so charming, so chivalrous, so much the essence of modern golf, looked heavier, unhappier, unhealthier.

He's going away again now, saying he doesn't know when he'll next appear in a tournament. And maybe that's a good thing. For all his extra-marital misdemeanours, he's a better man than he showed yesterday, and he needs more time to get his head right.

Incidentally, Phil Mickelson won it like a man who'd won it before (as he had in 2004 and 2006). His confident stride and exuberant recovery play set its own contrast to Westwood's tight arm from tee to green (though his putting was exceptional and kept him in it for a very long time).

And a word for Anthony Kim, who just looks like Tiger Two every time I see him play. He's a phenomenal talent, and his turn will come soon.

********

Veering away from the editorial and back to the equinorial (obviously, I've just made that word up!), and it's time to evaluate where the money went in the Grand National.

After a pesky Frenchie last year, we now have the long-held weight stat sent packing as well, as Don't Push It shouldered 11-05 to victory: more than any horse since Grittar in 1982.

What are we to make of that, especially with the runner-up carrying 11-06? Well, that's now six of the last eleven winners who carried 10-10 or more to victory, so I'm not really sure what to say.

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However, one theory I'm working with at the moment is that when the going is good or faster, as it was when Hedgehunter won off 11-01, and on Saturday, it does appear to give a few more pounds latitude in the handicap. I know that's a little sample of data, but it's harder to imagine a highly weighted horse slogging it out in the mud in a true run race and still prevailing (last year, in my opinion, Mon Mome nicked it off a slow pace, despite his decisive margin at the line).

I will definitely look a little higher in the weights if the sun is shining next April, but I'll be happy to oppose anything with eleven stone something should it be soggy and sodden underhoof.

As for the Frenchies, the best they could manage from their eleven entries, was... eleventh. In fairness, only two completed. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in a true run race, French bred horses cannot win the National as they simply do not stay.

Of the younger brigade, both Tricky Trickster and Piraya deserve mention for getting round as seven year olds, though neither of them (or the other two in this age group, Palypso De Creek and The Package) ever looked like troubling the judge.

Of my selections, Can't Buy Time unseated rider (I've watched the replay several times, and there's absolutely NO WAY the horse fell, as reported on both Sporting Life and Racing Post results pages. Richie McLernon will be embarrassed at how readily he rolled out of the side door), and my other three in the race Hello Bud, Snowy Morning and Character Building finished 5th, 6th and 7th. Having 50/1, 40/1 and 33/1 respectively about them was of zero consolation as they failed to hit the paynotes.

Hello Bud was given a wonderful ride by a young man (just 17) who, in my opinion, has an excellent future as a jockey. Sam Twiston-Davies, his old man Nigel's boy, rode a measured race and it was only when his horse's stamina gave in that he weakened out of it.

He rode a similar race from the front to win the Foxhunters at Cheltenham aboard Baby Run and his 'get to the front at a sensible, not suicidal, pace' tactics remind me of Peter Scudamore when he was winning all those races for Martin Pipe by just riding to the lead, getting his nag into a jumping rhythm, and gradually whittling his rivals down and into submission.

Good work, Sam.

Snowy Morning had every chance. David Casey had him a great position, just off the pace, all the way round, and he just failed to quicken/stay. Three completions and none better than third say I won't be backing him next year.

Character Building had Nina Carberry steering. She was plum last for much of the race, which is just not where you want to be in the National!

To be beaten 36 lengths at the finish was a fine feat from where they were, and I would definitely give him another chance next season, especially if they can get a bit more racing into him beforehand (and the ground is decent).

Of the rest, Cloudy Lane was another who stayed on well in eighth, Conna Castle ran well for a two miler, Comply Or Die got round again (Mon Mome didn't), and Preists Leap proved incontrovertibly he doesn't stay.

A brilliant race, no complaints from me despite doing a lot of dough on 'close but no cigar' beasts, and I can't wait for next year's contest!

By the way, although it unfortunately couldn't be said for the whole meeting, it was good to hear that no horses suffered serious injury or worse in the big race.

********

Finally from Aintree, or actually from Aintree and Cheltenham, as I said in a previous post, make a note of those horses that ran in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.

Cue Card ran away from them there, which makes him an exceptional prospect. And those in behind will win PLENTY of races. Starting on Saturday, where there were two horses from the Cheltenham Bumper running in the Aintree equivalent. They finished 5th and 6th three weeks ago, and they finished 1st and 2nd here. At 9/1 and 7/1.

More nice prices beckon, so keep these in your notebook:

http://horses.sportinglife.com/Arch_Race_Pup/0,13215,360581,00.html

That's it for today... the flat beckons!

Matt

17 replies
  1. Kev says:

    Great post as always Matt, and although I subscribe to the Oscar Wilde school of golf, ‘nothing but a good walk spoiled’, I do agree that AP is a sporting model that many a ‘superstar’ in other sports ought to aspire to.

    I also backed Hello Bud but did it with Bet365 who paid the 5 places. However, the other half was off out to a dressage championship (even more boring than golf!!) and as she walked out the door at 1pm not having even looked at the paper she said ‘stick a tenner on McCoy for me’.

    And all the time that I spent on doing that form analysis……… Grrrrr.

  2. Tim says:

    Matt

    The ground factor will make antepost betting more of a minefield. Given the time of the year I would expect that soft or heavy ground is likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Do you know the going for the last 10 – 15 nationals?

  3. Brian says:

    Hi Matt

    I backed Hello Bud at 40/1 each way with Bet 365 who paid out on the first 5 so it was a payday for me. I also backed the winner at 22/1 on Saturday morning using a trends formula (copyright A D Associates!) that’s got me 3 of the last 4 winners (but sadly not Mon Mome).

    Brian

  4. David Aston says:

    As you say Matt, AP now has won everything… I know he rides horses for the best owners in racing, but to win 15 championships in 15 years in that profession I don’t think will ever be beaten. The only pity was that Ruby took a hell of a battering, get well soon, we need great champions in this sport.

    As for Tiger, he is still fighting demons in himself, and having been away for so long, he struggled clearly on Saturday due to his absence. However, he is a great golfer, and needs to sort himself out fully before returning to the course!

  5. Big Jim Atkins says:

    Woods was trying to put on a charm offensive as well. What you saw was the real Woods in the final round. To say Woods previously was so charming and chivalrous is poor form. For a long time i,ve though of him as a great golfer, gross guy.

  6. Ronnie Nicolson says:

    5 places in the national with many bookies made Hello Bud a good earner.I have already heard it expressed that the race was set up for McCoy and it would not surprise me at all..the betting in the last half hour said a lot.But superb jockey he undoutedly is..
    I watched the golf with interest having backed KJ Choi at 80/1..another nice ew earner. As for Tiger let his golf talk and forget his private life..9 under in a first tournament back speaks for itself.

  7. Paul says:

    Hi Matt,

    I completely agree on Sams ride on Hello Bud, at 17 years old to complete the National as he did was pretty staggering if you think about it, a great ride.

    Didn’t back the winner but never been so pleased to have missed out, great day for McCoy, my only disappointment> where does he go now?

  8. Dave says:

    Well thought out blog today. Despite their spanking on Saturday, it’s good to see the bookies have not lost their sense of humour – Coral are offering 10/1 about Denman for next year’s National! Even the guy behind the counter in my local shop thought it rediculous.

  9. Gary says:

    Hi Matt had a cheeky £8 @ 89/1 on Betfair a week ago so covered all my losses on the others,did Hello Bud ew ante post so only 1st 4 which is no good,but I did think Maljimar was going ever so well when he fell at Beechers Brook 2nd time round in a very good position at the time.I know he doesn’t get home all the time but it would have been nice to find out,if they get round and finish 6th you now they don’t stay but if they fall when in 6th and lobbing along there is always that nagging question “if only he’d stood up and got round”,still there’s always next year!!

    cheers Gary

  10. Robin says:

    Totally agree, Gary. However, Maljimar was not exactly “lobbing”. If you watch the video, you’ll see that he set off virtually in last, stayed around the back for most of the first circuit, then gradually moved up into contention, having secured 6th place shortly before he fell. We still don’t know whether he would have stayed to the line, but on previous evidence, I think he would have gone mighty close (both State of Play and the winner were behind him when he fell). Get on for next year!

  11. LF says:

    Anyone else catch the story about bookies “weeping” because McCoys “shock win” cost them millions? My heart bleeds for them. Don’t Push It was 10/1 with bookies, but about 24 on Betfair at the off having steamed in the whole day. And is it true that some were paying out just 4 places (I wasn’t monitoring them)? Disgusting.

  12. John says:

    As a follow on on to Matt’s pointer re: following Cheltenham Festival Bumper runners, Dunraven Storm (14th in the Festival Bumper) is running in the 17:10 at Exeter tomorrow (Tuesday 13th). Not much price joy though as it is currently slated as 11/10F.

  13. Dennis says:

    Another excellent post and following on from your Cheltenham Bumper advice, as well as the 2 you mentioned, Hidden Universe that was 19th won at Limerick as a well backed 4/5 favourite yesterday and Dunraven Storm ,who was 14th, runs in 5.10 at Exeter tomorrow. So another chance to enhance the form in a short timeline.I backed Hello Bud at 40/1 with VC and they paid first 5 which does show that you really do need to shop around for value. Unfortunately the ‘bigger chains’ seem reluctant to give the once a year punter a fair deal. I for one am not crying that they apparantly lost millions on the result. They were quick enough to crow with a 100/1 last year and all the major favourites ( apart from Big Bucks) turned over at Cheltenham.
    Hoping for a dry spring / summer which will lead to solid reliable form that should enable the punters to bite back.

  14. Willie says:

    Sorry this is long after the event, but I’m just catching up.

    Matt – do you think the way the National is now being handicapped has something to do with how the weight stat has been holed below the waterline? The handicap is much more compressed now, with many more horses carrying 11-0 or more. I read somewhere that Phil Smith said he doesn’t make up the weights like a conventional handicap anymore. He said he lowers some of the higher rated horses to tempt entries from the better rated horses.

    Tim asked about the National going history: Here it is back to 1994:

    1994 – Heavy
    95 – Good
    96 – Good
    97 – Good
    98 – Soft, Heavy in places
    99 – Good
    00 – Good, Good to Firm in places
    01- Heavy
    02 – Good
    03 – Good
    04 – Good
    05 – Good
    06 – Good to Soft
    07 – Good
    08 – Good, Good to Soft in places
    09 – Good to Soft, Good in places
    10 – Good, Good to Soft in places

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Willie

      Long time! Hope you’re well.

      Excellent point, and yes, I definitely agree that Phil Smith’s personal crusade (perhaps he’s related to John Smith, the National sponsor!) to tempt better horses to the race has been a triumph for the race but a fly in the ointment for punters.

      Still, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and if Denman actually does run next season, most other horses are likely to be below eleven stone in any case.

      Time will tell, but I’d still want to side with those lugging less.

      Best,
      Matt

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