It's been a while, dear reader, and for that I apologize. But now I'm back with a full montgomery of a post, highlighting what's been happening over the past fortnight and what's ahead of us in the not too distant future...
In today's post, I've got a Derby preview (and a quick line on the Oaks too), news of my latest betting system, and some wisdom (no ironic quotes, for a change) from the horse racing beaks.
Let's start with a preview of Saturday's Derby from Epsom.
Summer is barely upon us, and the first Saturday of June means that already we are welcoming the fourth of the five British Classics onto our television sets (or those of a betting shop or hostelry near us).
The Derby is by far the most prestigious of the quintet, despite the early season timing of the race, and the curious nuances of the Epsom circuit over which it is run. This combination of quirks means that it is not always the best horse that wins this race.
Vanquished champions in recent seasons have included Hawk Wing, Refuse To Bend, and Dylan Thomas. But the race has also thrown up countless true champions, and few more so than Sea The Stars, last seasonâ€™s brilliant winner, who is a robust contender for the best horse of our generation.
Today, a typically competitive and largely unexposed field, go to post and there are some solid trends from the recent past to assist our winner-finding mission.
Firstly, note that the market does not often get this race wrong. The last winner priced at longer than 7/1 was High-Rise back in 1998. So it might be ambitious to expect anything to come from out of the betting pack to trouble the market principles.
Be aware also that â€“ probably related to market rank â€“ all of the last ten winners had finished in the first two on all starts in their Derby-winning season.
In fact, the last horse to win the Derby having finished out of the first two that season was Dr Devious, way back in 1992. (And his prior bad run was forgivable, as it was in the Kentucky Derby).
This did not bode well for St Nicholas Abbey, who looked to have a mountain to climb after his disappointing sixth place in the English 2000 Guineas. It may have been a blessing that he was withdrawn earlier in the week then, as heâ€™ll surely come back a fresh horse later in the season.
Taking this a step further, it is significant to note that no less than fifteen of the last seventeen Epsom Derby winners had won their previous race. The only two horses to break the run, New Approach and Sir Percy, were both gallant silver medalists in the English (and in the case of New Approach, also the Irish) 2000 Guineas.
This is a black mark against third favourite, Workforce, who played second fiddle to Cape Blanco in the Dante Stakes at York. Allied to that reversal, is the fairly well-known fact that no horse beaten in the Dante (first run in 1958) has EVER gone on to win the Derby.
Looking further back into the form lines of recent Derby winners reveals that no winner since Erhaab in 1994 has been out of the first three in any race run after their debut start. This counts against Azmeel, Midas Touch and Ted Spread, leaving a shortlist of just four: Bullet Train, Cape Blanco, Jan Vermeer and Rewilding.
Having been at Lingfield for the Derby trial that Bullet Train won, I have reservations about the merit of that form. I am also wary of supporting Cape Blanco, given the way he walked off the track in York: he may have been the winner of the Dante â€“ a very good recent trial â€“ but he looked lame and that is not a chance Iâ€™d want to take coming just three weeks before the Blue Riband.
Picking between the final two â€“ the thoroughly unexposed Jan Vermeer and the improving Rewilding (who was supplemented at a cost of Â£75,000) â€“ is difficult. Both were facile winners in lower grade last time, and both have a right to improve considerably for those efforts.
Both come from camps that know very well how to prepare a Derby winner, being from the Oâ€™Brien and Godolphin operations respectively. In this case, Iâ€™m inclined to look for the value, and back Mahmood Al Zahrooniâ€™s Rewilding (10/1 in various places) each way, with a win saver on Jan Vermeer, who has been supported as if defeat is out of the question in the last two weeks.
In the Oaks on Friday, it looks a weak renewal and commensurately difficult to call. This year has the hallmark of a 'boilover' to me, and I'll not be piling into anything at short odds.
In fact, given that I'll be joining my racing chums in Epsom for the day on Friday, it'd suit me well enough not to pile into anything, as I'll likely be drunk before the gates open on race one. From there, it may be a very long way home!
I was at Lingfield for the Oaks trial, and I thought Dynawaltz had plenty of guts as well as the requisite stamina, and maybe that touch of class as well, when winning there. Alas, she was scratched from the Oaks, taking my ante-post punt with her. I was also taken by the performance of seasonal debutante Ceilidh House, and backed her for the Oaks too.
The one I'm against from that race is Timepiece. She went really well for a long way, but was readily passed in the straight and looks to me as though ten furlongs will be her trip. I can see her trading short in-running on Friday, before failing to pick up.
Of the others at the head of the market, I advised readers here that Aviate's odds of 25/1 might look decent after the Musidora, and so it proved as she collapsed into 4/1 favourite after squeezing through a miniscule gap on the rail to just prevail at York.
The merit of that form is open to question however, and whilst of course I'm happy with 25's, I've traded out on this one.
Rumoush had no right to win the 1000 Guineas, having won the nine furlong Feilden Stakes in preparation and, in the circumstances, she ran an absolute stormer to finish second to Music Show in the unfavoured group (and seventh overall) in that now infamous renewal of the first Classic of the season.
She's had a beautiful under the radar preparation, and might just be the pick of these. She wasn't stopping at the end of the Feilden, and has a reasonable chance of staying on pedigree.
Sajjhaa won a Sandown maiden by seven lengths in facile manner, but that still doesn't entitle her to be anything shorter than 20/1 here. That was a Class 5 maiden, so not even one of the better maiden races for that track, and the 6/1 most bookmakers offer is frankly pathetic. Talking of Frankly, she will be ridden by Signor Dettori, so expect that price to potentially shorten up still further. If she wins, fair play. But definitely not for me at the price. (Her Topspeed figure of 65 is barely better than Always De One's best rating!)
Aidan O'Brien has three entered and, at the time of scribbling, he's not decided on jockey plans. Remember When is as short as 7/1 after a close fourth in the Irish 1000 Guineas, but she is still a maiden and doesn't look likely to stay this far... according to my eye at least.
Looking down the field for a likely 'coupon buster', it's another O'Brien filly that I keep coming back to. Cabaret was mullered in the Musidora and ran no sort of race. It is noteworthy how many of the Ballydoyle beasts had been needing that first run of the season, and she can be expected to improve massively for that effort. By Galileo, out of a Lear Fan mare, she ought to get the trip readily enough.
She reminds me of Moonstone, from the same stable, who finished second two years ago at odds of 25/1... to a horse owned by the same connections as Ceilidh House. What chance a repeat?
Already Advised: Aviate 25/1
Best Bet: Rumoush 11/2 (Sportingbet)
Each Way: Ceilidh House 14/1 (Sportingbet, Willam Hill)
Outsider: Cabaret 40/1 (Skybet)
Moving on, and I hope as many of you as wanted to got hold of my new (and first ever) betting system last week. Ready2Win has had something of a dream start, with four winners from its first seven runners, and a second, a third, and a fourth completing the septet.
As advised in the preliminary blurb, historically we're looking for something between 36% and 40% winners to runners, so expect a minor correction at some point.
That said, I'm delighted with the way things have started, and naturally not at all surprised. Let's hope for more of the same in the coming weeks and months.
Finally today, a really interesting and laudable innovation from the horse racing beaks. Yes, those same individuals that I regularly lampoon for their propensity to score own goals.
Well, this time they've gone up the other end and created what may very well turn out to be a thing of beauty, a veritable goal of the season contender.
As of this Friday, Oaks and Coronation Stakes day at Epsom, stewards' enquiries will be televised. In the words of Racing For Change's own PR machine,
"FOR the first time in British horse racingâ€™s history, Stewardsâ€™ Enquiries determining the outcome of a race are to be broadcast live by the BBC at this yearâ€™s Investec Derby Festival (Epsom Downs Racecourse 4-5 June). The inner workings of the Stewardsâ€™ room have been closely guarded for nearly 250 years, but now the public will be able to see the procedures that affect the destiny of millions of pounds of puntersâ€™ money."
Now I have to say 'bravo', 'chapeau', and 'jolly well done' to the powers-that-be for this bold decision to open a window on the world of Retired Generals vs Little People. With Epsom being a notoriously tricky track to manoeuvre, there's every chance of the sort of scrimmaging that will result in us seeing, first hand for the first time, the - ahem - enlightened discussion of the stewards' room.
I know that in Australia these televised 'court hearings' have been immensely popular, and I'm confident that they will be here too. After a Spring where not one but two Classic results have been amended by stewards across Europe (with the same filly, Special Duty, benefiting in both cases!), this is a timely and hugely welcome step forward in demonstrating the transparency of racing's decisions.
We may not necessarily agree with the decision, but at least we'll now be able to see - warts and all - how it was arrived at. Good news indeed.
What are your thoughts on this innovation? A new beginning for the openness of racing? Or a pointless PR stunt?
And who do you think will win the Oaks and/ or Derby? (And WHY?!)
Leave a comment and share with the rest of us...