It was a rare day out of the office for me yesterday, dear reader, as I boarded the rattler up to Newmarket to take a look at some horses. I spent the first part of the afternoon at the sales ring, and the second part at Julia Feilden's Exning yard, where our Geegeez Club horses are stabled. And I recorded the fun to share with you.
First though, I went to the sales. The reason? About a week and a half ago, I got a call from Julia saying that the problem with Obvious' knees had recurred and she'd had a veterinary report suggesting to either retire her, or use medication for the joints. The latter option has a high rate of fatal injuries associated with it, so it wasn't really an option at all.
So... it was decided that we'd go to Newmarket Sales to buy the replacement Club horse. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and Matt do often go astray, and so it proved here, as Julia found an ideal type whilst racing at Wolverhampton on Monday. Just touched off in a moderate affair, and with plenty of scope to improve for a trip and a few more months maturing, Always De One left Mark Johnston's yard in the morning, never to return. She's now housed in Newmarket - more on that in a moment.
Prior to the new acquisition, I'd already planned to head across to Suffolk for the sales, and I decided to go anyway, as I've never been before and I was very interested in how it all worked.
Well, I can tell you it was fascinating. I did shoot a little video, but it's kind of spoiled by an impromptu conversation from the horse rug sales lady, who - like the shopkeeper from Mr Ben - suddenly appeared out of nowhere. You can watch this from the following link, but I didn't think it was good enough quality to show on the blog: Newmarket February Sales 2010.
After a spot of lunch, it was off to Julia's to see the horses. I love to visit them and one of the cool side effects is that I'm overcoming my lifelong fear of being too close to them. Anyway, if the sales video was not great, I have to say that - although the production values are obviously not brilliant - I love this little clip of Julia's stable and the Geegeez geegees.
You can watch this in it's native resolution (i.e. a bigger video picture) here: Geegeez geegees.
We've another cracking weekend of sport coming up, with the trials for Cheltenham now reaching boiling point.
At Sandown, Binocular has been presented with a penalty kick ahead of the Champion Hurdle. Even if he wins by 20 lengths, his odds shouldn't truncate for the Blue Riband, such is the relative mediocrity of his two (!) opponents.
The 2.05 race sees the eagerly-awaited debut of Triumph Hurdle second favourite, According. I have to say that 10/1 about a horse who's yet to face the starter over hurdles seems ludicrous to me and, again, even if he wins well, this race is as nothing when compared with the hurly-burly to come. [Having backed Advisor, I'll be hoping that According doesn't win tomorrow, as it probably lead to a further positive correction in the market for my boy.]
Next up is a Grade 1 Novices Chase, featuring RSA Chase favourite, Punchestowns. Although he won a Grade 2 on his only fencing outing, that was as soft a Graded affair as you're likely to see. He's clearly extremely talented, and should win this (as his odds of around 1/3 imply), but whether tomorrow's contest is more than a spring clean of his joints remains to be seen.
The 3.10 is a ferociously competitive handicap hurdle, and any of the field could conceivably prevail. There's one right at the bottom that I like the look of though. The horse is called Magic Sky, and I got to see this chap close up last time when he won another well-contested hurdle race, beating - amongst others - my own Night Orbit (who finished a gallant fourth).
Magic Sky may be a 10 year old, but he relishes these true run affairs, and loves the sticky ground. With a feather weight here, and very consistent form all season, Milton Harris' veteran should be running on at the end when many have cooked their geese.
Doncaster's Saturday card features one of the bigger priced RSA Chase contenders in Tazbar. A win for this fella in a what is another well-contested event will surely halve his current 40/1 quote. Whether he will win tomorrow is subject to the attentions of numerous credible alternatives, including the Nicky Henderson 'apostrophe' pair, Dave's Dream and You're The Top.
The feature race is the Grade 2 Lightning chase, where prolific winners Mad Max, Woolcombe Folly and I'm Delilah slug it out. Slight personal preference is for the match-fit Mad Max to meet market expectation and justify favouritism - there's an 'M and F' tongue twister to conjure with!
Perhaps the most intriguing Donny race from a Cheltenham perspective is the handicap chase at 3.25, where Kalahari King - unraced this season, and as short as 8/1 for the Champion Chase - saddles top weight against 14 rivals. He's an 8/1 shot to win tomorrow, and surely any 'out of the frame' performance will see his Cheltenham odds drift markedly. Not for me, though I wish him well.
Wetherby also get in on the Graded chase action tomorrow, as they run the Grade 2 Towton Novices' Chase. A quartet of runners face the starter and, to my eye, it looks a match between the potential of Weird Al and the proven ability of Knockara Beau. In what could be a cracker, despite the small field, my money will be on Knockara to assert.
Perhaps the defining element of the combativity of the Cheltenham Festival, is the annual match between the British and the Irish. And any serious student of form needs to get a robust handle on the action in the Emerald Isle. This weekend sees a glut of Graded action, plus major trials of an ungraded stature.
There's the Opera Hat Novices' Chase at Naas tomorrow, featuring Arkle favourite Captain Cee Bee (himself a previous winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle).
Then, on Sunday, there are FOUR Grade 1 events at Leopardstown, featuring the likes of Pittoni (leading fancy for the Triumph Hurdle); Fionnegas, Saludos, Some Present and the mighty Dunguib (as low as even money favourite for the Cheltenham opener); Cousin Vinny, Roberto Goldback, Zaarito and previous Cheltenham Festival winner, Weapon's Amnesty; and Cooldine, Joncol and Notre Pere who will be looking to book their Cheltenham Gold Cup places with strong runs in the Hennessy equivalent.
There'll be a full preview of the Irish action over at horse-racing.ie. Get the Irish Race Previews here.
That's it from me for now - I'm off for a long think about the weekend's punting fare.
p.s. Which horse are you most looking forward to seeing this weekend?