It was a brilliant weekend of racing, as Cheltenham's Open meeting went toe to toe with Punchestown's Morgiana Hurdle weekend. As well as some cracking winning performances, and plenty more of great promise, there was also a bit of an error on my part. More on that, including how you can help ensure it doesn't happen again, towards the end of this post.
But first, let's dwell on a wonderful few days of jump racing. The overlapping period of the last couple of weeks of the flat and the first few of the jumps offer little in the way of solid form, or competitive racing. All that changed, though, with the rise of the tape for the first race at Cheltenham on Friday. It may have only been an amateurs' handicap chase, but the scene was set for a thrilling three days.
Highlights on Friday included Taquin de Seuil showing he can act on ground better than soft when he outkicked Oscar Whisky after the last. In truth, it was a muddling race, and the ground may have been closer to good to soft (or 'dead' as some jockeys were calling it) than the official quote of good at race time. Take nothing away from the winner who was always in the right place, and it was AP McCoy doing the stiffening after the last.
For Oscar Whisky fans, while this was another blow after the disappointments at the end of last season, the real shame might be that he failed to convince in his jumping, looking every inch like a horse which - after five years hurdling - cannot fathom how to get a foot or two higher at these revised obstacles. He could be one to oppose at short prices in the near future.
The following handicap hurdle resulted in a smooth win for Thomas Crapper over a field bristling with potential. Numerous horses were heavily backed, but none could live with the horse named after a firm of toilet manufacturers. If anything, three-quarter length second, Angles Hill, may have been flattered by his proximity given that the winner seemed to idle once hitting the front.
His narrow margin of victory may save him from draconian measures by the handicapper and, if that comes to pass, he's capable of notching the hat-trick next time.
Angles Hill was running second in the race for the second year in a row, and he had daylight to spare over the third placed Whisper, the best finisher of the gambled-on nags.
Further back, Upswing was given a metaphorical mountain to climb which, allied to the literal hill he was required to scale, proved too much. Nevertheless, he can improve markedly on this, and looks likely to go close in a decent contest as the season wears on. This isn't the first time a McCoy-ridden McManus-owned horse has been exaggeratedly out of its ground before closing all too late, and it's become something of a blueprint for getting horses handicapped.
The cross country races aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I loves 'em. Here's why: firstly, although they can be run at a pedestrian pace, they offer plenty of variety in the jumping tests, and they also feature some of the more, erm, mercurial (read, doggy) members of the equine fraternity. That leads me to the second reason I loves 'em: they are excellent betting heats.
Take Balthazar King, for example. A stand out prospect for the race for all sorts of reasons alluded to in Friday's post, he was available at 2/1 for much of the morning, and as big as 9/4 the night before. He returned 5/4 in the end, and my weekend expenses were covered then and there. I don't bet a lot of short-priced horses, but value comes at all prices and he was knocking value.
Plenty in behind will never a Festival Cross Country winner make, and the stage looks set for some new blood to take on BK if they're able. Perhaps Enda Bolger's Love Rory, staying on winner of the Risk Of Thunder Chase over Punchestown's banks twenty-three-and-a-half-hours later, could be the pretender come March. He'll only be six then, but he already looks a stayer of some promise.
Ruby Walsh made a rare foray over for the one ride: Quick Jack in the last on Friday, and he made it worth his while when sluicing up atop the 15/8 favourite. This fellow is clearly progressive, and he's going to get plenty of cargo to carry when next he faces the starter after this romp.
Jack's mark here was 113, and he's likely to be nearer 125 next time. He's also to have a break now, before coming back in the New Year. Doubtless the Festival will be on the agenda, and most likely a tilt at the County Hurdle, a race won this year by the same connections.
The placepot slipped away on Friday as AP got the better of Barry Geraghty in that win only heat, and with it about £2,500 in dividends evaded my betting account.
Saturday was Paddy Power Gold Cup day, and a cracking race looked in prospect, with almost every runner having a case made for them in one quarter or another. The babies were first to take the floor, with Royal Irish Hussar laying down a good early season benchmark for the Triumph Hurdle next March. He'll need to jump better to win at the Festival though, and the 16/1 quoted by Ladbrokes is a good bit more sensible than the 8/1 offered elsewhere.
It's entirely possible the Triumph Hurdle winner is hacking round a field somewhere in France just now, so keep that powder dry!
The novices' chase was noteworthy mainly for the poor showing of African Gold on his fencing bow. On this showing he's more of a contender for the four miler than the RSA, but I'd be inclined to think he's better than he showed, and wait on his next start before taking a firmer view.
Le Bec won well enough, but ought not to be up to RSA Chase standard, gritty and determined though he is.
The placepot went west in leg three, as Monbeg Dude - who jumped to last to give a lead to Godsmejudge - capitulated to fourth on the run in, with the 'judge still just behind him. The trio who scooted by up that debilitating hill were led by Alvarado, a talented "monkey" according to his jockey, Paul Moloney.
He was kicking off a fat-priced double for local trainer, Fergal O'Brien, a man worth following.
As for the Dude, well he doesn't want to be in front too long, and perhaps if regular pilot Paul Carberry had been in the saddle, he'd have been delivered later. That said, he was weighted to finish behind Bradley on their last year one-two in the race, and that's pretty much exactly what he did.
The big race was up next, and I was happy enough with my three against the field: Champion Court, Astracad and Attaglance. Midway through the race, I was far less content, as Champion Court put in a hollow effort, perhaps getting stuck in the dead ground, but still failing to match expectations.
Astracad on the other hand ran a lot better than his finishing position of eleventh might imply. He's got a nice race in him somewhere along the way this term. As for Attaglance, he remains an enigma over fences. It might be that three miles is his trip now, or it might be that he's just not as good over a fence as he was over a hurdle. I suspect the former, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him make the frame - at least - in the Festival Handicap Chase on Festival Tuesday.
The winner was Johns Spirit who, like Thomas Crapper and Balthazar King before him, was doubling up after success at the October meeting here. This game is so easy with hindsight, isn't it?
I gave Johns Spirit a chance, but he seemed short enough in the betting to my eye. Be that as it may, he was clear best here, and taking his time under a stylish Richie McLernon, he went the longest way but never looked like losing from the turn in. This was off a perch of 139, and he'll be a 150 horse in future. That may put him in the picture for such as the Ryanair, though in truth it could leave him a bit betwixt and between handicaps and Graded company, assuming there's not another ten pounds of improvement still in him.
Easter Meteor was running a massive race when falling two out and, if none the worse for that, is of clear interest next time, assuming the market doesn't overreact (as it often does with such horses).
In the penultimate race, the handicap hurdle, Salubrious put in one of the performances of the weekend... and still lost! That he was carrying 11-07 to the winner's 9-11 tells the story and, after an impressive weight-carrying effort when winning the Martin Pipe off 11-08 last term, he shouldn't be ignored when lumping top weight in handicaps.
James Best was blubbing like a baby when interviewed after his last gasp win here, and fair play to the lad: it clearly meant everything to him.
The concluding bumper exemplified my luck for the day. Having a speculative loyalty £15 on Lilly Waugh, trained by Anthony Honeyball and ridden by Rachael Green, I'd snared 22.0 on Betfair, which implied only a slim chance in this Listed bumer. Miss Waugh, under Miss Green, traveled extremely sweetly turning in and looked for all the world like the winner... before getting mugged by the rattling-home The Govaness, for that man, Fergal O'Brien. At 28/1?!
Meanwhile, over the pond at Punchy, Champagne Fever was making an eye-filling impression in the novices chase. Always thought of as a chaser in the making (aren't they all?), the fact that he's been good enough to win both the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices' Hurdle prior to filling his vocation over the big buggers should have made him a very exciting prospect. And he wasn't going to disappoint.
Up against a very talented ex-pointer in Marlbrook, Champagne Fever was much the best and looks to be a strong fancy for the Arkle, though the Jewson may also be considered for a horse who seems to have stamina to match his speed. It's not impossible that he might be a Gold Cup horse next season, but let's first see how he goes through this term.
For the contrarians amongst you, it's worth noting that Champagne Fever was beaten a few times last season prior to outstaying Jezki and My Tent Or Yours, so don't be too perturbed if he does flounder on deeper ground-er 'twixt now and middle March.
Sunday, and I get a pass to head to the track. Cheltenham with my great mate Gavin (of Nag Nag Nag, Trainer Track Stats and Festival Trends fame), and his family (including long-shot king, brother Gary). I was also able to catch up with Nicky Doyle, who has just relaunched his excellent Bet Alchemist service. He's had the typical losing start as soon as new subscribers come on board, but has shown some promising signs with the nomination of two placed 33/1 shots in Attaglance and Rawnaq. I wish him well with his service, and I'm certain he'll continue to find value for those who 'get' what he's doing.
To the racing, and we kicked off with a big field handicap hurdle, in which I had no view. I'd banked on Lieutenant Miller in the placepot, and that meant I didn't need to bet anything else. Just as well, really, as I'd never have found Home Run, the 40/1 winner and a portent of a golden day for David Pipe. He also saddled the second placed horse, and went on to greet three more beasts in the winners' enclosure before the day was out.
Cumulative odds amounted to 5,995/1 and that tells you much about the facility (or lack thereof) of locating this little quartet.
The second race of the day was a novices' hurdle, featuring two very promising sorts in Sea Lord, high class on the flat and protecting a six race unbeaten run over hurdles; and The Liquidator, an excellent bumper horse now making his name over timber.
As it turned out it was a mismatch: The Liquidator went to the front and stayed there, while Sea Lord toiled and laboured, and flapped and flailed. I'd backed the Sea Lord (of course), and I - like the hordes who shortened him to even money from an early 11/8 - knew my fate pretty early.
If anything, Sea Lord deserves credit for staying on to be a respectful second, as he barely jumped a hurdle all the way round and looked errant enough on the flat too. It could be that the dead ground did for him; it might be that the undulating track wasn't his bag... but this run strongly suggested that Cheltenham won't be his happiest hunting ground, and I would rather wager him on Aintree's pan-flat plains than Cheltenham's big dipper.
Take nothing away from the winner: he jumped well throughout, and was kept up to his work all the way to the line. The fact that Scudamore continued to encourage him - more vigorously than the distance of his lead suggested he needed - implies that he may have been running out of gas. That's conjecture on my part, and I'd like to see him in a deeper field where getting his own way in front is less assured.
Yes, I'd backed Sea Lord, in a double with Ted Veale, the County Hurdle winner in March, and now faced with fences. He was up against Dodging Bullets, a horse I've consistently crabbed, and Raya Star, a smart hurdler that had made a nice start over the birch.
Well, sometimes you just get it all wrong. Ted, who I topped up with a single after double with Sea Lord had mutinied, ran a listless race in third. Raya Star ran well enough. But neither was much of a match for Dodging Bullets, who fair bounded away up the hill and looks a smart recruit to novice chasing. He'll probably continue to be suited by small fields, and he's much more likely to get that scenario over fences than hurdles.
It was the second leg of a stellar novice chase double for owner Martin Broughton, whose Taquin de Seuil had lowered the Oscar Whisky colours on Friday.
As for Ted Veale, well, my suspicion is he was under-cooked and that he'll be tilting at the Grand Annual (two mile handicap chase) come Festival time. A nice low weight, having had a sighter over the Prestbury fences and a couple of muddling mud runs back home: just the job.
The feature of the afternoon was the Greatwood Hurdle, and both Gavin and I had reasonable confidence in our nominations. Gavin was in the Ifandbutwhynot camp, and I was in the Sametegal camp. As it transpired, we were both in the losing voucher camp, though I earned pole position on the whingeing grid, Sametegal having looked set to win before the €280,000 purchase, Dell'Acca duffed him - and my bet - up on the run in.
That's a chunk of money to spend on a horse with no undercarriage, and connections will be relieved that he's at least made a reasonable dent into the expenses column with the £43,000 he picked up here. I don't suppose they fancy paying me out on Sametegal...? No, thought not.
This was leg three of the Pipe quad, and it returned 12/1, well enough fancied, but unconsidered by me.
Rawnaq ran well for Nicky and his subscribers, claiming 8/1 for the place, or thereabouts; and Flaxen Flare was another who showed plenty with an eye to the future. Last year's Fred Winter winner, he'll need to drop a few pounds, or improve a few pounds, or most likely both, if he's to win again next March. But this performance suggested it's far from impossible for that to happen.
Tanerko Emery was one of the main victims of the fall of Ahyaknowyerself - well, of those that weren't brought down anyway - and he ran with huge credit to finish fifth: another excellent turn from David Pipe horse. He ought to be winning soon.
And Pipe was to complete his four-timer with the unbeaten Red Sherlock, owned by the late David Johnson, and bred from his brilliant race mare, Lady Cricket. Many people offered plaudits to jockey Timmy Murphy for his 'almost off the course' inside line, but let's be clear, the best horse on the day won.
Neck Or Nothing tried to jump a path, and he's a good bit better than the bare finishing position of eighth suggests.
Meanwhile... over the pond at Punchy, Willie Mullins saw David Pipe's four-timer, and Ruby Walsh, the cheeky little showoff, raised them with a nap hand of five consecutive winners!
Whilst the headline horse will be Hurricane Fly, the subtext is that this was a deeply disappointing effort, albeit in victory. The Fly was sent off at odds of 1/16 to win his 'world record' seventeenth Grade 1. He won by one and a quarter lengths. Not a Ruby Walsh cheeky little showoff one and a quarter lengths; more like an almost all out where's the line? one and a quarter lengths.
Most bookies pushed him out marginally for the Champion Hurdle and, given that he'll be ten years old by then, I just can't have him. It's true that I've written off good horses prematurely before, but even if Hurricane Fly was 80% fit, beating a horse rated 37 lbs his inferior in such animated fashion was a weak showing.
Marito for his part may well be on the upgrade, and I understand it's possible he's headed for the Hennessy next, which would be interesting.
That was leg four of the Ruby Showoff Show, and it had been preceded by a 1/5 winner (Faugheen), a 9/4 winner (Felix Yonger), a 6/4 winner (Morning Assembly), and succeeded by a 7/4 winner, City Slicker. Cumulative odds, then, were 27.5/1. Chuck in 10/1 winner, Presenting Beara, and you had a 312/1 six-timer.
Double that and add a bit and you get the €648.50 dividend for a euro that the Punchy Pick 6 paid. There was a juicy rollover and, with those two bankers, I couldn't resist a tilt at it. True enough, I threw 120 €1 lines into the mix. But still it was enough to make a good weekend a very good weekend, despite a fair amount of crossbar-rattling.
I'll let Tony Keenan dissect the Irish racing, as he has a much better handle on such things. But I will say that Faugheen looks like a massive horse, and he virtually walked over the hurdles in his stride. Big. Horse.
Now then, to my mistake. I went looking for a bookmaker to offer a free bet prize based around Saturday's big race. There was a condition - entrants had to place a £10 bet - but, despite that, I have to say I was surprised and a bit disappointed with the number of entries. Thirteen. Five of which had failed to place the qualifying bet. Meaning eight legit entries.
Now that's my issue, and it's my mistake. And it serves me right for assuming I know what you fine people want from this 'ere blog. I should have asked you what you want!
So, closing the competition door after entries horse has bolted (or something), below is a question - please select all answers that apply to you - and next time, I'll be able to frame a comp that will be more popular and, hopefully, fun! 🙂
Thanks in advance for your responses, and I hope you had a great weekend with the geegees.