So here we are, dear reader, you and me trekking (at least metaphorically) towards the Sussex Downs for the first day of Goodwood's 2009 renewal of their Glorious meeting. It should be said that whilst the racing looks up to muster, the weather may not be, with varying degrees of precipitaton predicted for each of the first three days at least.
It will be under soggy skies therefore that the first of the equine athletes do battle, and we should account for this in wagers accordingly. Those beasties that need the feel of thudding on tarmac will likely be disadvantaged (not that too many can, given that if you're half a ton in weight and your legs are as spindly beneath the knee as the average thoroughbred, it's likely to hurt a lot under such circumstances. I guess, ultimately, it inconveniences smaller, lighter animals less, rather than speeding them up - any equine physiology students care to give a more considered view on this subject?)
Enough of these peripheral - if fascinating - procrastinations, and back to the Downs. For there are seven winners for seven races that we need to identify... so let's get onto it.
My big hope for the totesport Mile, Alfathaa, has instead pitched up in this ten furlong contest. He's been staying on well over a mile in competitive handicaps (including the Royal Hunt Cup), so the extra distance should be to his liking. Moreover, the last five winners of the race were 4yo's, and weight appears to be no barrier to success with two recent winners lugging 9-10. He'll act on any variation of going with the word 'good' in it, and his trainer loves a winner at this meeting.
In short, I reckon he's got a fantastic chance, and will be punting him accordingly.
One note of caution, however, is the horse's propensity to find trouble in running from his held up race position. It is to be hoped that the extra quarter mile will give Mr Hills time enough to extricate our boy from any cul-de-sacs he may find himself in, and power him to success.
There are of course many dangers in a race of this nature, and Timeform make Royal Destination top rated with the 'p' for 'potential to improve', so a small saver on this unexposed one will be my backup plan. (Presumably it's not prudent to go 'all in' on the first race of a thirty-plus race meeting!)
Danger: Royal Destination
Again, my view flies in the face of logic, with the clear top rated selection on pretty much every scale you care to use is Masterofthehorse. He was third in the Derby and (arguably, slightly disappointingly) fourth in the Irish Derby, which sets him apart from these in terms of what's been achieved to date.
There does however have to be some doubt as to whether Mrs D Mountain (who is no doubt a fine trainer) can elicit further improvement from a horse formerly in the care of the maestro, Aidan O'Brien.
Thus, it's the darker ones that interest me. Firebet and Harbinger have a fair bit to do to achieve the same level of form, but both are on the up and up.
It's rare for Richard Fahey to have a runner in a Southern Group race, and even rarer for him to tilt at windmills, so this boy's presence in the lineup has to be respected. But, as I said yesterday, my colours are nailed to the Sir Michael Stoute- trained Harbinger mast.
He will also be my placepot banker for the day.
There has to be a doubt about JJ The Jet Plane staying these seven furlongs. Although he's won a Group 3 in South Africa, he's not done better than a Listed race here to date, and his best performances are at 5f and 6f. Certainly, I'll be against him today.
But with what? Asset is a non-runner, which makes life a little easier, and the obvious one to be on is Sir Michael Stoute's Main Aim. I'm going with the obvious, and looking to Sir Michael to double up.
The interesting one for me is Ouqba, who looks best at this specialist trip. He is two from three this term, and can be forgiven for not staying and not being quite up to it in the 2000 Guineas, his only defeat of the year.
Finjaan won on this card last year in the following Molecomb Stakes.
Selection: Main Aim
The Molecomb Stakes is normally won by a 2yo near the top of the market, and Monsieur Chevalier has achieved a consistent level of form which is superior to his rivals. Given that there are not many exposed sorts here, it probably won't pay to be too gregarious with one's investments. Thus, I'll be rowing in - again - with the jolly.
Should Mister Cavalier (as his name translates) fail to run up to muster, which is unlikely, my placepot saver will be on Dandy Nicholls' Mister Manannan. He looked one to follow prior to a slightly disappointing run in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. Forgive any horse one bad run is a maxim that I believe, so I'll be popping this Mister in my placepot as well as the Monsieur.
Selection: Monsieur Chevalier
Danger: Mister Manannan
It starts getting tougher now (I think!), hence saving my placepot powder for the tail end of the wager. This excellent strategy does not of course preclude me drowning my sorrows in an early bath...
Three key stats to note: 4 and 5yo's have won nine of the last ten runnings; no horse has won at odds of longer than 11/1 in the last decade; and Luca Cumani and Mark Johnston have won six of the last seven runnings!
For those reasons alone, I'll be with Waldvogel (Cumani), Drill Sergeant, and Yes Mr President (both Johnston). I'm also going to chuck in Manyriverstocross from super Alan King's yard. His only poor run was when shambolically ridden by a shambolic amateur (I'm sure Miss Rachel King has many talents, but race riding would not appear to be one of them...).
So, four in the 'pot, and still not confident of progress. Waldvogel, who was Listed class over this trip in Germany, is my pick of the quartet, assuming he's fit enough to do himself justice. Market support this morning would suggest he is.
Danger: Drill Sergeant
It's not getting any easier, but at least this is the last leg of the placepot, and we're still in there pitching (at least theoretically as I write this!).
A fiendishly difficult handicap, in which the draw will be our friend. I'm going to side unambiguously with the high numbers, and will wipe my mouth if I'm wrong on that.
Also consider this: no winner in the last decade has won this from a rating lower than 86, although - that said - this does look a sub-standard renewal, on the ratings at least.
Both Mister Dee Bee and Wellington Square have been performing with consistent merit this season, and it's not beyond the wit of horse that they'll contest the finish between them. Of course, that is to massively oversimplify the biggest conundrum of the day.
This is a race that Dandy Nicholls likes to win (two victories in the last decade) and his Bencoolen looks like he'll be ready today, as well. He'll complete my placepot trio, and curses upon the lot of 'em should this be the leg that sends me out (as I fear it may).
Selection: Mister Dee Bee
Danger: Wellington Square
Total placepot lines = 2 x 1 2 x 2 x 4 x 3 = 96
There's still a 2yo maiden to come, and it's one for the purists, I think. If you want to bet, take note of this: all bar one of the winners in the last decade started at 4/1 or shorter. The exception was a 50/1 boilover. Given they're likely to bet circa 4/1 the field, I'd not be looking beyond the co-protagonists.
Lowdown is a tentative and token pick.
Danger: Ilston Lord (wealth warning: this is a random pick as he's the outsider of the field trained by a man with one of the best records at the track - he also has a more fancied runner in this race).
Good luck with your Day One wagers - I'll see you in the payout queue later!