It's Monday, dear reader, and that means we're all coming to terms with the passing of another weekend and the arrival of another week. For many that equates to the drudgery of the office (or whichever shackles you're required to wear for five of the seven days), so let me try to momentarily lighten the load with a few observations from the weekend, a B-I-G question, and a look forward to what's coming up this week.
Firstly then, to the weekend. The racing in these isles offered three Group 1 affairs on Saturday, and what a contrast of definition they were! Consider that the winner of the Haydock Park Sprint Cup - surely the worst Group 1 in the calendar, and a cherry ripe candidate for downgrading - had previously only won a single Group contest and that a Group 3, in 29 starts prior to Saturday.
Now I don't want to take anything away from Markab, who won the race nicely and beat Starspangledbanner (and others) fair and square. But... no winner of this in at least the last eleven years now was a previous Group 1 winner. In other words, all of the last eleven winners were scoring for the first time in Group 1 company.
What does this rather curious stat mean? Well, I'm not entirely sure, because a fair amount of Group 1 winners have contested the race.Â I think it means that no serious sprinter is ever aimed and fired at the Haydock Sprint Cup as its primary seasonal target. Markab is a seven year old. That's a venerable age to be winning a sprint Group 1, especially when you consider that many of his previous wins were over seven furlongs, and one victory was over a mile on heavy ground! So you'd hardly call him a late maturing speedball...
The second horse, Lady Of The Desert, is a three year old filly and she was dropping back in trip to some effect after contesting a French Classic race earlier in the season. She had won two Group races over six furlongs as a two year old, but still it would have been fairly difficult to envisage her winning, say, the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Compare and contrast that then with the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown ten minutes later, and the similarly graded Matron Stakes for ladies earlier on the card.
In the Matron Stakes, the first three home were all either previous winners or runners-up in Group 1 contests, as were the fifth and sixth placed fillies. Of the sextet that went to post, only Hen Night had failed to achieve that level of performance and recognition.
The Irish Champion Stakes is always a belter, and it is favoured by Aidan O'Brien as THE race in the Irish calendar to win, which is why he's now won six of the last eleven renewals.
Here, the first four home were all previous Group 1 winners, with the fifth being ultra-progressive (Sea Lord, having won six of his previous seven races), and the last placed horse, Famous Name, having been placed second in Group 1's multiple times.
The winner, Cape Blanco, demonstrated in no uncertain fashion that his best trip is a mile and a quarter. Despite having registered a victory in the Irish Derby earlier in the year, his Dante verdict over English Derby winner, Workforce, marked him out as a serious ten furlong animal.
On Saturday, he bulldozed a top class field, ambling to the front and just turning on the gas. Rip van Winkle, the odds on favourite, was - forgive me - caught napping, and couldn't catch the pigeon that was Cape Blanco this day. At the line, he had just two short heads to spare over Twice Over and Beethoven, with just a half length and a length back to the last two. CB won by five and a half lengths!
Most impressive and - even more pleasingly - Tony put the Blanco up as his Irish Big Race Trends value selection to beat RvW. 6/1 was a nice payoff for 'early adopters' of that service.
They'd have been even more delighted with the fact that the shortlists found the winners of the other three races as well. In the Matron Stakes, Lillie Langtry (7/2) was on a shortlist of four. Same applied for Await The Dawn (also 7/2). Cape Blanco was on a shortlist of two and, in the Autumn Fillies Handicap, 14/1 winner Vivacious Vivienne was one of a shortlisted trio (as was 9/1 third, La Chassotte).
Top tipping, Tony!
Moving on to Sunday, and the Group 1-fest continued with the Prix du Moulin, over a mile. Paco Boy was bidding to get back to winning ways after a two reversals, both at the hands of Goldikova (and also last time out by 2000 Guineas winner, Makfi). Here he didn't get his way and - needing a run at a vital time, he was just checked a while - I think we saw categorically that he is not suited to the French style of racing.
Over the Channel, they tend to dawdle, then sprint. That was the case here, and it was the recalcitrant Fuisse (who unshipped pilot Stephane Pasquier en route to post) who prevailed in a driving finish.
Paco could do no better than fourth of six, with my punt, Lope De Vega, one place further back. This was Paco Boy's fourth defeat in five runs in France, which compares most unfavourably with his overall 52% win strike rate.
Lope De Vega, winner of the French 2000 Guineas and Derby (run over the shorter trip of 1m 2 1/2f), probably needs to front run to be seen at his best, and he seemed to sulk here when he didn't get his own way.
But the winner is a very good colt, having been second in the Prix du Jockey Club last year, and won three of his four starts prior to yesterday's return to winning ways. He'd be difficult to oppose over a mile at the Arc meeting.
Talking of which, Bekhabad is a certainty for the Arc...! 😉
Moving on, and there was sad news on Friday of the death of former super-two-year-old, Celtic Swing, in Italy where he was performing stallion duties (what a way to go!).
I couldn't find a video of his TWELVE length demolition job in the Racing Post Trophy as a juvenile, but here's a reprisal of the great 2000 Guineas scrap which he ultimately lost to Pennekamp, himself an awesome miler.
A good horse, that one...
Gambles, gambles. It's been a week of interesting wagers over the jumps. First we had Delyth Thomas (who?!) landing an almighty touch at Hereford, with a horse called Am I Blue. There was a late replacement jockey - none other than Richard Johnson - and the horse was the subject of much support (25/1 into 5/1) before easily winning.
Am I Blue had previously been beaten 88, 75 and 22 lengths respectively, and it was hard to see where the improvement came from. It was even harder to believe that trainer Thomas claimed 'astonishment' at the gamble... Something fishy maybe? (Or perhaps form students can put me right on this one).
Then yesterday, there was a Jonjo O'Neill horse, Another Trump, which had been beaten forever in his last several starts (60, 55, 48, 51, and 52 lengths), before winning at 3/1 (backed heavily from 8/1 on course).
Again, savvier form students may point to the horse having an obvious chance because of x or y. But to my eye, this radical improvement was difficult to understand.
I'm not saying all wasn't as it should be, and I actually think the occasional landed gamble makes for good news stories and therefore heightened interest in the sport. Of course, the flip side of that is accusations of crookedness which will undoubtedly hit betting turnover and the reputation of the game.
In summary, I imagine all will be cleared of any wrongdoing, but it is probably right and proper in these forensic days to have a 'thorough investigation' into the betting patterns and form lines of the beasts (horses, not connections!) in question.
And finally, I have a question for you. And, for me, this is a big question, and something that might forever change the face of Geegeez... For a long time, in fact since I've started online, I've resisted the temptation to have a forum. In case you don't know, forums are places where people can ask questions, share ideas, and generally engage on the forum subject.
Alas, all too often, they are also places where people bitch and moan, breach copyright laws, and try to spam other users. To keep a forum bitch and pitch free would require something close to full-time monitoring and moderation, and this is something I don't really have the time for (nor, if I'm completely honest do I have the inclination).
But... but... I know that you guys use forums. You told me this. In the last Geegeez survey, I was shocked to learn that more than 50% of respondents were already online in horse racing and betting forums. And, in terms of making Geegeez the place you'd like it to be, that is something I cannot ignore.
So, here is my question, which comes in three parts:
A. Would you like to see a racing and betting forum on Geegeez?
B. Would you contribute to the forum, or rather just read the stuff in there? (Not a trick question, either is fine!)
C. Would you have any interest in helping to moderate the forum? (That is, to keep the content 'pitch and bitch-free').
Leave a comment and let me know! And have a great Monday. I just read an awesome quote outside the British Library, which said, "Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present". Cheesy, but I liked it. 🙂
p.s. stay tuned this week, as I've got a number of racing and betting freebies to give away...