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How Newbury’s Pace Bias Changes Over Fences At Different Distances

Newbury and Newcastle host the top action this weekend with the more competitive racing seemingly coming from Newbury.

The ‘Ladbrokes Trophy Chase’ is the highlight on the card, run over 3m2f, and it will be very interesting to examine any potential course pace biases at that trip and compare them to shorter distances.

Newbury Chase Pace Bias Over Longer Distances

Here is the pace bias data for bigger field handicaps over 3m+ at Newbury.

Not a huge sample size but not a poor one either. As such the win data can be taken with a slight pinch of salt but that seems to suggest that the closer you are to the pace the better. Front runners and prominent racers score a 11.36% and 10.62% win percentage respectively. That compares extremely favourably with 5.17% and 2.92% for mid division and held up respectively.

Given the sample size more notice should be taken of the place data but that also follows a similar trend with front runners coming out best again 34.09% and the data tailing off the further back you go until you reach hold up performers. They have a place percentage of just 13.87% - a huge drop off from the performance of the other three run styles. 

Each way bets on front runners and prominent runners are both profitable to back win and place, producing EW PL of 1.5 and 4.5 respectively whilst as you’d expect, following runners that race in mid division or the rear has been unprofitable. It’s also worth noting that despite lesser representation, front runners and prominent racers win almost twice as many races as their patiently ridden counterparts (17 winners compared to 10 winners).

Overall Chase Bias At Newbury

So how does the above data compare with shorter trips at Newbury?

This shows the performance (place percentage) of front runners and prominent racers combined across various chase trips at Newbury in the same races as the earlier pace data. The distances are shown along the bottom, in furlongs. There is no really clear trend unfortunately.

You’d normally see a stronger early pace performance at shorter trips and that is the case here with 16f and 17f coming out best of all. It’s much poorer between 18f and 22f, and also over the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase distance of 26f, but it appears that over 24f (3m) there is a clear increase in the effectiveness of early pace here.

That’s not to say early pace isn’t effective over 3m2f here, in fact front runners still have the best win and place percentages over that trip, but it seems that racing in mid division is more effective over the extra distance than it is over the shorter distances (and 3m).

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase Preview

With pace being analysed in this article we’ll of course want to note the pace map first.

Front runners do well over this course and distance but this might not be the race for them with a likely contested early speed. There are four fairly strong contenders to lead early in this, Remastered, One More Fleurie, Eklat De Rire and Cloth Cap, so this could setup for something ridden a little more patiently.

That doesn’t mean it will be ideal to be held up miles off the pace as despite looking a pretty fair course it’s clearly still not easy to make up plenty of ground here. So with that in mind the likes of Cloudy Glen, Kitty’s Light and The Hollow Ginge will need to run particularly well to get into this.

Ontheropes is likely to be a pretty warm order for Willie Mullins having won impressively last time out. He seems to have quite the engine and obviously the trainer has to be massively respected whenever he sends anything over but the majority of his form is on very testing ground so there is a slight unknown as regards to the ground. Potentially not one to get stuck into at a shortish price.

Eklat De Rire also has ground concerns in terms of being unproven and he’s also lacking big field form too which could count against him. He is also likely to sit very close to what will probably be a strong gallop. He’s one of a few here that could be anything but I’d prefer to have something a bit more ‘solid’ running for me in a race like this.

Fiddlerontheroof’s latest win has taken a knock since and he’s still got to prove himself over this far. There are certainly no stamina doubts about Enrilo who was first past the post but demoted to 3rd in last season’s bet365 Gold Cup Chase over 3m5f, a race that took place on good ground. He’s gone well fresh previously and should be able to sit a little way off the pace so he’s certainly one of those more solid contenders, for all he’s short enough in the early betting.

Around Enrilo in that bet365 Gold Cup were Potterman and unlucky loser Kitty's Light and they reoppose here. Despite the likelihood of a decent gallop here, Kitty’s Light might not be ideally placed as he is often very patiently ridden. Potterman on the other hand may be just about ideally placed and he seems to love good ground. He ran very well last time out and despite being 6lbs higher than when unseating in this last year he looks a good each way punt at around 14/1 with up to 7 places on offer with the bookies for this.

I also wouldn’t want to rule out Brave Eagle from getting into the places at a big price (25s general at time of writing). He was 8th in this two years ago off a 9lb higher mark when hampered twice and he ran very respectably after almost a year off last time out. He’ll be entitled to come on plenty for that and for anyone who can get on with the bookmakers with the better each way terms he’d be worth a small interest.

Chelmsford Racecourse Run Style Bias

Welcome to the first article of a new series where I will be looking at run style bias at individual all weather tracks, writes Dave Renham. All weather racing is now a ‘staple’ of our winter racing diet and there will be plenty of betting opportunities, starting today, in the coming months for punters at all of the six British courses, as well as Dundalk which I'll not be covering. For this series of articles, I will also not investigate Southwell as they  changed the surface from fibresand to tapeta from 7th December 2021.

What I mean by run style is the position a horse takes early in the race, normally within the first furlong, which often defines its running preference. geegeez.co.uk has created some powerful resources to look at run style in the Tools menu tab. There is the Pace Analyser and the Query Tool which can be used to undertake this type of research for yourself. Running style is often linked with pace because the early pace shown by horses in a race determines their early position. Hence, for many, the words run style and pace are interchangeable.

The stats I am sharing here are based on the site’s pace / run style data. These data on Geegeez are split into four sections – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the score assigned to each section. The numbers are really helpful as you can drill down into them to help build a better picture and understanding of how important run style can be.

Below is a basic breakdown of which type of horse fits which type of run style profile:

Led – horses that lead early, horses that dispute the early lead. I refer to the early leader as the front runner;

Prominent – horses that lie up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack or just behind the mid-point;

Held up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.

 

Chelmsford City Racecourse is the first all-weather track under the microscope. I will be looking at individual distances with the focus being 8+ runner handicaps. The data have been taken from 1st January 2016 up until 30th September 2021, five years and nine months' worth.

 

Chelmsford 5 furlong Run Style Bias

We'll start with a look at the minimum trip where the race start is close to the bend (see image at the top of this post). Let us look at the run style (pace) figures:

 

These figures clearly illustrate that the advantage is to horses that have led, or disputed the lead, in Chelmsford 5f handicaps. Horses that have race mid-division or further back early have a relatively poor record, both in win terms and profitability. As the shortest race distance, 5f races allow the least amount of time for runners to make their challenge from the back. Hence at most courses, both all weather and turf and especially around a turn, there is a strong front-running bias.

The success of front runners has been fairly consistent as the graph below shows; here I have looked at the winning strike rates (SR%) of front runners split into two year groupings (2016-2018 and 2019 to Sept 30th 2021).

 

As you can see there has been a similar front running performance in terms of strike rate: marginally better between 2016 and 2018 but probably not statistically significant. The A/E values correlate in the same way:

 

Again these were slightly higher in the 2016 to 2018 period (1.69), compared with an A/E value of 1.57 over the past three years. One might expect that market edge to erode further in coming years but there still appears plenty of 'juice' for now.

The draw for front runners does not seem to make too much difference – interestingly it is not the very low drawn front runners who have secured the highest strike rate, it is those drawn 5 to 7. In truth though, individual stall data provide a relatively small sample size so we should not read too much into them.

It is also interesting to look at the performance of front runners in terms of their market rank (position in the betting).

 

As we can see, front runners who are favourites have won more than half of their races. In general, horses that are relatively unfancied (those 7th or higher in the betting market) have been unable to retain their early lead. This of course makes sense, but it shows that it is something we need to factor in if we are thinking about backing a potential front runner: race position is best when coupled with some kind of ability, as predicted by the betting markets!

While digging into market factors I noticed that front runners that were priced 5/1 or less won 24 times from 59 races. This equates to a strike rate over 40%. Not only that, a further 20 placed giving an impressive win & placed percentage figure of 74.6%.

Now you might be reading this thinking that OK, we’d expect this type of market bias. However, let me share the data of 5f handicap favourites at Chelmsford with you across all running styles:

 

Looking at this, do you want to be backing a favourite that is likely to be held up? Or even one that is projected to race mid-division? Naturally, we cannot 100% predict what run style a horse will show in any one race - and sometimes horses miss the break or adopt a surprising tactic - but most tend to conform to a favoured style which helps steer us in the right direction.

Finally in this 5f section I’d like to split the data down further by number of runners – specifically, races with 8 or 9 runners compared with races of 10 or more runners. Here are the relevant A/E value comparisons for each running style:

 

It seems that bigger fields give front runners a slightly stronger edge and hinders hold up horses even more.

 

Chelmsford 6 furlong Run Style Bias

Moving up a furlong to the second sprint trip of 6f at Chelmsford, where they have a longer run to the turn, let us look at the run style (pace) figures:

 

The front running bias is not as strong over this extra furlong but it remains fairly significant. As with five furlong handicaps, the nearer you are to the early pace the better.

The bias has remained relatively consistent since 2016 and the average SR% for front runners over the past two seasons has been 19% (slightly above the 6-year average). Draw wise, front runners are again able to win from low, middle or high – there is no clear draw/pace angle here.

Looking at market rank there is also a similar pattern to the 5f data. Front runners from the top three in the betting have provided 36 wins from 114 runners (SR 31.58%); the rest of the betting market has provided 14 wins from 187 (SR 7.49%). Comparing the A/E values we can see there is much more value in front runners who come from the top three in the betting:

 

It is rare to talk about shorter priced runners being ‘value’ but these front runners seem to be.

Looking again solely at the overall performance of favourites by run style, we can see that front running favourites outperform every other type of favourite in terms of run style:

 

The bias to front running favourites is far less potent than it was over 5f, but nonetheless if you were the owner of the jolly and your horse was sufficiently versatile, which run style would you like the jockey to try and deploy? It’s still a no brainer when front running favourites are 1.67 times more likely to win compared to held up favourites.

As I did earlier with the 5f data I am going to split the 6f data down by number of runners, comparing races of 8 or 9 runners with races of 10 or more runners. Here are the relevant A/E value comparisons for each running style:

 

We see a similar pattern here with 10+ runner races strengthening the front-running bias as well as making it harder for hold up horses to be successful.

In general, it's very good to see the 5f and 6f figures correlate so well.

 

Chelmsford 7 furlong Run Style Bias

Up to 7f now, races at which distance start in a chute and cover the entire back straight before turning for home, and the run style splits for this distance:

 

Surprisingly perhaps, given the longer run to the turn, the front running bias at Chelmsford is actually stronger over 7f than it is at 6f. This is unusual as at most courses the bias to race leaders diminishes as the distance increases, especially when the distance to a bend is greater. This stronger front running bias is difficult to explain; it might be because the 7f races start from the chute and after the initial jostling for an early position the horses on the early speed are able to slow things down a little once meeting the main part of the course. Sectional timing data could possibly help here; but Chelmsford is the only UK racetrack at which an official timekeeper is not permitted to record such information.

Having said all that, in 2021 front runners have actually really struggled, winning just 1 of 22 races. This is something we need to keep an eye on, but I am guessing (hoping perhaps!) it is simply an anomaly. One stat that backs up my theory is that the placed figures for front runners stands at 44.4% in 2021, which correlates almost perfectly with the overall 6-year front running place percentage of 44.9%.

Over 5f and 6f we saw a stronger front running bias in fields of 10 or more runners. Over 7f there seems little difference. The front running A/E values are 1.45 and 1.40 for 8-9 runners and 10+ runners respectively.

As far as the draw is concerned front runners have again had success regardless of stall position. That said, when the front runner has come from the inside stall (draw 1) they have been particularly successful winning 12 of 41 starts (SR 29.27%).

Now a look at front runners in terms of their market rank. Let’s see if the same pattern emerges that we’ve seen at the two shorter distances:

 

A slight outlier with front runners who were 6th favourite aside, the same general picture is painted. Front running favourites do extremely well and let us again review the performance of favourites in terms of their specific run style:

 

The message the numbers continue to hammer home is if you are backing the favourite in a Chelmsford sprint handicap, you really would like it to front run, and you certainly do not want it to be held up.

 

Chelmsford 1 Mile Run Style Bias

It is rare to see very strong front running biases at distances of a mile or more. Let’s see whether early leaders have an edge over Chelmsford's mile, which starts in a doglegged chute, and if so by how much:

 

As expected the front running bias is diminishing – you would still prefer to see your horse leading early than rather midfield or near the back, but run style becomes less of a determinant of success. I am not going to delve deeply into this trip because there is little utility, but I will share the record of the favourite combined with running style:

 

There is not the strong front running bias seen at other trips here but clearly favourites who lead or race close to the pace (prominent) early in the race are much better betting propositions than those who race mid pack or near/at the back. If you had happened to back all favourites that were held up or raced mid division you would have lost 30p in every £ wagered. If you had backed all favourites that raced prominently or led early you would have a tiny overall profit.

 

Chelmsford Racecourse Pace / Run Style Bias Conclusions

All in all Chelmsford has a strong run style bias across multiple distances with front runners having a clear edge. The 5f trip offers the strongest, closely followed by 7 furlongs and then 6f. This group as a collective can be used as a betting angle, and then overlaid with form considerations.

The bias is still evident over a mile but it is relatively modest.

Let me close with a graph that helps illustrate this neatly: it compares the A/E values for front runners / early leaders (4, blue bars) with those for hold up horses (1, orange bars) across the four distances. The disparity at the shorter trio of distances is stark, where over a mile the gap has been been all but closed.

 

- DR

Monday Musings: An APT Comparison?

Last March, as Rachael Blackmore urged her mount in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to close on stablemate Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy up the hill after the last fence, she would have been excused for saying: “A Plus Tard” or “see you later” in the English version, writes Tony Stafford.

The comment might have been Lostintraslation for some – the much-fancied horse of that name pulled up two from home that day – but after last weekend when both latter horses won major races, the path appears set for a march to greatness for the Henry De Bromhead seven-year-old.

Lostintranslation’s easy win in Ascot’s Chanelle Pharma Chase signalled another pointer to the revival in form of the Tizzard stable – soon by all accounts to have son Joe’s name rather than dad Colin’s above the stable entrance. That effort, though, could not compare with the Irish-trained horse’s performance in running away with the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.

Most enjoyable for British racegoers as the Irish won this coveted Haydock autumn feature for the first time, was that A Plus Tard carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, the principal UK-owned breeder which every year produces top-class animals. With more than 100 mares and in excess of 110 in training every year, Flat racing is the bread and butter. Jumping is the winter release.

Under the careful management of Chris Richardson the stud has fuelled on the enthusiasm for jump racing of Patricia Thompson and her late husband David. The couple won the 1992 Grand National with last-minute buy Party Politics, trained by Nick Gaselee and ridden by Carl Llewellyn, and in recent years built up a select team of high-class jumpers in Ireland.

A class apart though is A Plus Tard and although only a seven-year-old he has just entered his fourth season as a steeplechaser, and still has only 12 races over fences (five wins, five seconds and two thirds) on his record.

Much of the talk before Saturday’s race surrounded the possibility that Bristol De Mai would equal the achievement of Kauto Star who won the Betfair four times in the first decade of the millennium with one unseated preventing an unblemished five-race record.

Bristol De Mai, trained for the last eight seasons by Nigel Twiston-Davies and, like Kauto Star, an early acquisition from France after precocious efforts over hurdles, has won three. Initially he beat in turn Gold Cup winners Cue Card and Native River. He was narrowly beaten in the race in 2019 to Lostintranslation before outstaying multiple Grade 1 winner Clan Des Obeaux last November.

As with those two multiple Betfair victors, A Plus Tard started in France. Whereas Kauto Star had already raced nine times (winning three) before his dramatic step up in form to win a four-year-old Graded hurdle at Auteuil when a 36-1 shot in late May, A Plus Tard never raced at that level. His moment came on his fifth and final start (and second win) when collecting a 40k to the winner 4yo handicap early in April 2018 there.

Like Kauto Star and Bristol De Mai before him A Plus Tard switched quickly to chasing, running as early as November of that year and finishing runner-up in a field of 13 at Gowran Park under Blackmore – the first of the 11 races in which they have combined.

Remarkably, three races on and less than four months after that initial association the now five-year-old ran away with the 20-runner Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The only horse of his age in the race, he did so giving weight and a 16-length thrashing to Grade 1 hurdle winner Tower Bridge with 18 other decent performers trailing far behind.

His next run brought defeat in third over three miles at Punchestown at the end of his busiest season with De Bromhead. He was restricted to only three races the next winter, sandwiching defeats on reappearance and when a close third behind Min in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham with a first Grade 1 triumph at Leopardstown over Christmas.

And last season was another cherry-picked campaign of just three races. Again Leopardstown provided the one win, another at Grade 1 level over Christmas but this time without Rachael who partnered instead Minella Indo, who fell before the race warmed up. Darragh O’Keeffe was the lucky man to step into her shoes. Back on A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup as chronicled at the start of the piece, second place to her stable-companion and other regular partner came as their rally up the hill was a little trop tard.

There is an uncanny symmetry about aspects of the early careers of Kauto Star and A Plus Tard. Both started in France and showed precocity. Certainly in the case of Kauto Star, he burned bright for many seasons. De Bromhead’s deliberate planning for his young improving star’s career offers hope that his will also be long-lasting

The Knockeen, County Waterford, trainer has run him sparingly and, with a horse of such talent, there is no need to go searching away beyond the top prizes. I would be surprised if he turned out more than four times, with Punchestown a possible after Cheltenham, especially if he wins the Gold Cup this time. Next will likely be the normal trip to Leopardstown for a Christmas hat-trick attempt.

Minella Indo, who comes from the parallel universe of Irish jumps talent, the point-to-point field, is the De Bromhead version of Paul Nicholls’ Denman. That great chaser was a contemporary of and in terms of merit almost exact counterpart of Kauto Star and he too came from the Irish pointing field.

Kauto Star was by 29 days the senior and in terms of their careers with Nicholls earned almost twice as much as his colleague and rival, collecting £2.2 million from 19 wins in 31 chases. Denman won 14 of 24 for £1.14 million

When Kauto Star won his first Betfair Chase as a six-year-old he was rated 173. Afterwards he even once touched as high as 190 but mostly was rated in his prime in the 180’s.

Although at seven a year older at the time of his first win in the race, A Plus Tard is rated 1lb lower at 172. It is worth reminding ourselves of the ease of his win, and on faster ground than is normal for the Betfair Chase.

Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille kept each other company for more than two-thirds of the race on Saturday before Royale Pagaille got the edge in that private battle, with A Plus Tard always tracking them going easily. He was sent to the front three out and, pulling away all the way home, the finishing margin of 22 lengths over Royal Pagaille could have been much greater had Rachael wished.

Remembering just how impressive Royal Pagaille (rated 163) had been in the Peter Marsh Chase over the same course and distance last January, it was salutary to see a similar disrespectful beating being handed out to him. The winner must be raised for the win although Kauto Star’s rating as he won successively his first Betfair, Tingle Creek (two miles) and the first of his five King Georges brought very little reaction from the handicapper.

There was definitely a hint of Kauto Star in the speed with which A Plus Tard disposed of his 2019 Close Brothers rivals at Cheltenham, and again as he cosied up to Royal Pagaille before asserting. This was an exceptional performance but there is still that stable-companion and last season’s Cheltenham defeat to avenge before we declare him the best of the bunch.

Rachael Blackmore also had to make a painful (at least it looked that way beforehand) choice between A Plus Tard and her 2021 Cheltenham Festival winner Bob Olinger when that horse also made his seasonal return at Gowran Park, again with Darragh O’Keeffe as the beneficiary.

Bob, the deeply-impressive unchallenged winner of last season’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle at the Festival, was appearing for the first time since and enjoyed a nice school round to defeat useful yardstick Bacardys (Willie Mullins). This was the champion trainer’s first try at assessing the likely threat to his own best novice chasers later in the season. It might have dented his optimism a bit, but he usually pulls one out of the hat!

One Saturday winner who will offer some hope of a domestic success at the Festival is the Nicky Henderson-trained but Hughie Morrison nurtured and developed grey, Buzz, who followed his Cesarewitch success with another dominant effort in the Coral (to you and me Ascot) Hurdle.

While there is an intermediate distance race for the top-class chasers (the Ryanair) at the Festival, two and a half mile hurdlers are forced to drop back to the minimum for the Champion Hurdle or stretch to three miles and a bit for the Stayers. Otherwise they can wait for Aintree which does cater for them.

I think the level Aintree circuit would be perfect to utilise Buzz’s Flat-race speed and he would be meeting horses partly used up trying either of the possible Cheltenham options. But then, who can resist the lure of Cheltenham? Certainly not, it seems, James Stafford and his Thurloe Thoroughbreds syndicate.

Buzz races for the partners but, with a portion of the proceeds of their victories going to the Royal Marsden, Buzz will always have a feel-good factor going for him.

Never mind additionally that James did casual shifts for me ages ago at The Daily Telegraph and thereafter always greets me on the country’s racecourses as “Uncle Tone”. I can think of worse forms of address – indeed I’ve received a few in my time!

- TS

Haydock Pace Bias Over Marathon Trips On Good Ground

Seven of the last nine renewals of the Betfair Chase have been run on ground that was at least soft and three of the last five years it has been heavy ground but a very dry spell this year means that we are likely to be racing on good ground on Saturday. This gives us a good opportunity to have a look at potential pace biases on better ground at Haydock.

Staying trips are the main focus at this meeting with three chases over 3m+ and also the Grade 3 Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle so these distances are where I will concentrate my efforts.

3m+ Chase Pace Bias At Haydock On Good Or Good To Soft Ground

Unfortunately we have a pretty small sample size here courtesy of the fact that Haydock rarely gets extended dry spells but the data we do have suggests that this is a relatively fair course.

Races tend to be more even from a pace perspective over longer distances and that seems to be the case here with front running, racing in mid division and being held up all resulting in pretty similar place percentages. Front runners actually perform poorest of all in terms of placing with a place strike rate of 25% but being near the pace isn’t a complete disadvantage as prominent racers have comfortably the best win and place strike rates. The win percentage when racing prominently is an impressive 17.05% and the place percentage is 38.64%, well clear of the next best 27.66% for mid division.

Despite the small sample there does seem enough of a difference in the data to suggest that racing just off the pace is advantageous over longer trips around the Haydock chase course.

Given how close the data is for the three other run styles it doesn’t seem worth doing anything with this pace data other than simply marking up those that are likely to race prominently. 

The individual pace setup in each race will of course have an influence on this so we definitely shouldn’t blindly assume that prominent racers will be advantaged in every single race but more often than not they are likely to be seen to best effect here.

3m+ Hurdle Pace Bias At Haydock On Good Or Good To Soft Ground

To be able to get more data into the sample I have included races run over 2m6f as well, a move that is unlikely to dilute the quality of the sample given the similarity in distance.

Again, still not a massive sample but we are seeing a fairly strong advantage towards those nearer the pace here.

Front runners have a place percentage of 29.03% and prominent racers have a place strike rate of 30.77%. There is little between the two but both compare very favourably with mid division and held up with those place percentages reading 22.08% and 20.20% respectively.

So both front runners and prominent racers have a similar record of reaching the frame, as do those racing in mid division and the rear, but there is a pretty big difference between the two pairs of running styles.

So once again, take into account the pace setup in each staying hurdle race at Haydock on decent ground but in most cases mark up those likely to race in front rank.

Stayers’ Handicap Chase Analysis

My preferred race to get involved in on this card would be the chase run at 12.40 over a distance of just over 3.5m. Even on good ground stamina will be at a premium.

Firstly, here is the pace map for this race:

It seems almost certain that Furius De Ciergues will go forward and if similar tactics to recent runs are used on the rest of the field he’s going to get a pretty easy time of it at the head of affairs. He’s an extremely consistent sort having finished in the first 4 on each of his last 13 starts over hurdles and fences and his latest 3rd has been pretty well advertised since with winner Strictlyadancer going in again comfortably next time out. He’s unbeaten in two runs beyond 3m2f and should be able to fill the places once again as a minimum, even if he is 2lbs out of the handicap.

There are four contenders likely to track the early pace and this quartet should be in the best place according to the previous pace data here. 

Speak Of The Devil is a consistent horse on good ground and he’s very much in form having gone close last time out. He could be suited by this step up in trip but he’s generally been running in weaker looking races than this. He does look a fair price though all things considered.

Captain Drake ran poorly last time out but that was off the back of a break and after a wind op so he did have excuses. He has good ground hurdle form but he seems best suited by softer conditions and he’s not the easiest to fancy here. Jersey Bean is another who didn’t run well last time out. On the best of his form he has more than a fair chance but he’s not the easiest to predict.

Defuture Is Bright looks a bit short in the betting based on this season’s form. He’s already had two runs and did improve from first run to second run but he was still 13 lengths behind Furius De Ciergues last time out and he needs to rediscover last season’s form.

Amateur is all about stamina and he’s been a better horse on his more recent starts after a wind op. If he’s fully fit for this he’s a major contender. Silva Eclipse has won here and finished 2nd a further four times but the majority of his best form is on heavy or soft so conditions could be livelier than ideal for him.

This perhaps isn’t the strongest race with several of these having questions to answer so I think I’d prefer to play Furius De Ciergues each way given he is proven over the distance and in the ground and he comes into this extremely likely to run his race which is more than can be said about most of these.

Solid Contender At Lingfield

One runner I have been monitoring for some time is Uther Pendragon who runs in the 11.35am at Lingfield. He’s certainly not the classiest, nor is he the easiest to win with (just 3 wins from 67 starts compared) but he does have a much better record of filling the frame (23 top 3 finishes from 67 starts) and he’s now looking very well handicapped.

He’s put in numerous decent efforts in relatively good races.

On the 22nd December he was a narrowly beaten 3rd over course and distance off an 8lb higher mark. The winner won 2 of his next 5 starts and the 4th won next time out too.

On 12th January he was 3rd again over this course and distance, beaten 1.5 lengths, in a race where the 2nd, 4th and 6th all won shortly after. Uther Pendragon was rated 9lbs higher in that race than he is now.

On 5th February he was a neck 2nd, again over course and distance, and the winner won next time out whilst the 3rd and 4th would both finish runner up shortly after. That run also came off a 9lb higher mark than his current rating.

Then on 18th April at Newbury over this 10f off the same mark again as previous runs, he was ‘only’ 7th, beaten 5 lengths, but the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th all won within a couple of outings after. That was an extremely strong race and arguably the best example of Hot Form all season.

Uther Pendragon seemed to lose his form after that but enjoyed the return to Lingfield last time out, trying to make all but ending up in 3rd. That’s not his typical run style so he should benefit from being slightly more patiently ridden from a good draw in stall 2. If he tracks the pace and is in the same form as last time he should be able to at least place again so it will be interesting to see how the bookies price him up.

Your New Daily Email Format

This week we're upgrading, energising and otherwise invigorating our daily email offering. If you've been receiving our daily digests to this point you'll have enjoyed one click access to all the latest news stories at around 11am each morning. Well, all that's about to change, in a good way!

From any day now, your email will arrive at 7am to allow consumption by the earlier birds in our community. And the content inside has expanded significantly. Below is a breakdown of how the emails will look, section by section.

The top section contains a grid of the day's races. Course names are clickable to view our course guide pages (packed with handy information for the track in question). The going is correct at the time of publication, though might change later in the day so be aware of that; and the race times are also all clickable to go straight to a particular event. Those highlighted in yellow are the free races of the day, accessible to all registered site users.

 

The next section will be familiar as it is what used to be contained within the daily bulletins - news, features and tips:

 

After that, we share an article from the back catalogue of featured long-form articles, often though not always directly relevant to the day's racing:

 

And, finally, there is a reference to the day's free Feature of the Day, a particular part of Geegeez Gold that is accessible to all free users on the day in question.

 

We've tried to include something for everyone, regardless of your time, experience or subscription level; and I'm personally very much looking forward to being able to access all of this directly from my inbox each morning. I hope you are, too!

Matt

Monday Musings: Skeltonham

The 2021-22 jumps season – in a sort of foreplay since the end of April – began on Friday with three days’ intense action at Cheltenham, writes Tony Stafford.

The top five protagonists for the jump trainers’ championship, always supposing that Messrs Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead do not intrude on a private domestic issue, have positioned themselves nicely for imminent take-off.
At this stage Fergal O’Brien leads the way with 72 wins and £622,548. Paul Nicholls is second on £561,628 from 60 winners.

Dan Skelton, boosted by the weekend, is on £531,752 from a modest 39 wins to date; Donald McCain has £466,295 from 65 and Nicky Henderson, well up to scratch with 50 wins, is lagging a little with £397,633 in prizes.

A couple of seasons ago, Dan and Harry Skelton, emboldened by the lavish support of their father Nick, Olympic show jumping gold medallist and icon of his primary sport for the best part of half a century, would have been the numerical summer pacesetters in the title race.

The trio knew that having a base in Warwickshire worthy of housing the best of bloodstock, would need a trigger to attract owners in a sport where they were accustomed to turning to Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls if they wanted their horses trained in the UK. The Skeltons needed numbers and the summer, with the best horses out at grass, was the time to put them on the board.

Even some of those two perennial champions’ owners had already gravitated to the better prizemoney and overwhelming superiority, talent- and numerical-wise of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott over in Ireland. It appears that the latter’s gauche blunder in being seen grinning and brandishing his phone to the camera astride a fallen horse on his gallops has been forgiven if not forgotten. Memories are long – practicalities are instantaneous.

The Skelton team has now clearly made it to the big league as their principal five challengers over the weekend emphasised. Meanwhile the mid-summer void has been comfortably filled by Fergal O’Brien, formerly assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies and more recently a tenant of his.

The building of a new yard a few miles away enabled the breakaway from Twiston-Davies and was the catalyst for a major step forward last season when he broke 100 winners for the first time.

After two 60’s in a row, the next two campaigns realised 49 and 63 before 104 at 18% and £796k prizemoney in 2020-21.
Such has been the forward momentum that as we enter winter, O’Brien leads both winner and money categories. That reflects a 60k cushion, but Nicholls, Skelton and Henderson all have more obvious candidates for the very big pots which always define the season’s champions.

Fergal’s stable strength has been nicely augmented by the addition of around 60 horses that the BHA’s favoured barrister, Graeme McPherson QC, has bequeathed (not exactly, but you know what I mean!) to them. McPherson was more the money man than the day-to-day trainer, and graceful withdrawal from the licensee position in favour of giving it official satellite yard status is bound to have beneficial results.

Already several former McPherson horses have shown improved form since the merger and if Fergal intends maintaining his fast pace – 11 wins in the last fortnight – he needs the extra ammunition.

He stepped in with the Listed bumper winner Bonttay on the Saturday of the meeting and as she and stable-companion Leading Theatre led a big field up the hill you could imagine both being high-class jumpers further down the line, an opinion the trainer upheld with a snatched comment: “two lovely fillies” as he walked by. The stable seems to have a bigger proportion of fillies than any of their main rivals, but that merely confirms assistant and partner Sally Randell’s assertion that “they are cheaper to buy”.

Success attracts owners, as the Skeltons illustrate, and now new owners are flocking to the softly spoken Fergal. They had a new owner with them at the sale after racing on Friday and he came away with lot 1, Poetic Music, a debut winner of a Market Rasen bumper for John Butler, at £60,000. “She was our number one at the sale too. I’m delighted we got her”, Sally said.

Two-horse races rarely capture the attention of the racegoer, but Friday’s two-and-a-half mile novice chase in which fencing newcomer My Drogo, a brilliant unbeaten hurdler last winter for Dan Skelton, was meeting Henry de Bromhead’s four-time chase winner Gin On Lime.

The younger Gin On Lime, a mare, had penalties which should have ensured My Drogo’s favouritism and so it proved, the home runner 4-9 with 7-4 against Gin On Lime.

Then at the second-last fence, when Skelton was manoeuvring his mount to challenge on the stands side, he hit the fence hard and could not maintain the partnership. Meanwhile on the inside, Gin On Lime also blundered but as she started to sink to the floor Rachael Blackmore did a passable impression of all those rodeo tricks she must have seen in cowboy films and simply stayed glued to the saddle.

The mare recovered her equilibrium with Blackmore soon back in charge and they set off to the final obstacle which Gin On Line crossed with no further problems. Blackmore had been the darling of the last spectator-limited Cheltenham Festival and here, with the aid of her main supporter De Bromhead, was revealing a new sphere of excellence.

If day one was a major setback for the brothers Skelton, on Saturday the wheel of fortune turned with another spectacular run by Third Time Lucki, the first domestic candidate for the Arkle Chase and a welcome one with all that talent waiting to reveal itself on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Maybe it was a job only half done, but two exaggerated celebrations of Harry Skelton as he crossed the line in front twice in succession yesterday showed how much it all means to win at the home of steeplechasing. First he was in splendid isolation on the always-talented Nube Negra in the Schloer Chase and then the long-time absentee West Cork got the better of Adagio and No Ordinary Joe after a battle up the hill in a high-standard Greatwood Hurdle.

Winning big handicap hurdles with horses after a layoff has been part of the Dan Skelton DNA for some time and West Cork was a prime candidate for such a project. Absent since his second in the Dovecote Hurdle in February last year behind Highway One O Two, he had been dropped 5lb for that Grade 2 second place from the 139 he had earned by his easy defeat of a Nicky Henderson 1/3 shot at Huntingdon.

That generosity by the handicapper was the final piece in the puzzle for the stable whereas top-weight Adagio, only a four-year-old, had been assessed to the hilt on his form of last winter. The third horse No Ordinary Joe pulled hard from the outset yet was still there with a big shout starting up the hill. If Nicky can get this unexposed type to settle better there is no limit to the potential of J P McManus’ gelding.

Nube Negra’s victory, emphatically pegging back one previous Queen Mother Chase winner in Politologue and ending the hitherto unbeaten course record of Put The Kettle On, the reigning champion but one who was never going yesterday, was deeply impressive.

It certainly was not lost on the bookmakers, who promoted him to near the top of this season’s market on the two-mile championship, nor on the younger Skelton, who not satisfied merely with standing in the saddle and pointing to the crowd as they crossed the line, then sated his elation with a rapid-fire first pump. He might find it harder to peg back Brian Hughes this winter, but as he says, he has some great horses to ride.

Some jockeys win a championship and simply want more. Harry Skelton will take another one if it comes, but he’s not going to do the running around riding out and touting for rides on other people’s horses. Why would he with animals of the ability of those Cheltenham mounts?
- TS

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias?

Cheltenham is going to grab the headlines this weekend so that is where I’ll focus the bulk of my attention. I’ll be looking at pace once again but I’ll be doing it slightly differently this time around.

We all know that pace is extremely important in each race and pace biases exist in some form or another at most UK racecourses but what is often underestimated is relative pace bias. It’s all well and good saying a front runner will be suited by a particular course, but if the horse's recent form has been at a venue that is even more advantageous for front runners then it’s probably fairly likely the horse won’t run as well as the recent efforts (ignoring all other race factors of course).

So this week I’m going to look at how front runners perform at Cheltenham, relative to other racecourses.

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias Over Hurdles?

Below you’ll see the performance of front runners, in handicap hurdles, at a variety of distances across UK and Irish racecourses. The data is sorted by Impact Value, which shows how often something is happening relative to the other possible outcomes.

There are several important things to consider from the above data.

Over the minimum distance 52 of the 63 tracks examined have a better IV than Cheltenham. That’s not to say front runners perform poorly at Cheltenham. An IV of 0.92 is fairly respectable (1 would be considered standard, anything above that is ‘positive’, anything above that is ‘negative’) but it’s fairly clear that it’s not as easy to make all at Cheltenham over very short distances as it is at other courses.

At intermediate trips front runners perform less well at Cheltenham. All of the metrics drop and the IV for front runners now stands at 0.64. It’s quite common to find the effectiveness of aggressive tactics decreases over longer trips but we now see just four tracks performing worse for front runners.

Over staying trips the IV for front runners is reduced once again, this time to just 0.36. Over these more extreme trips there is only one course that now has a worse IV for front runners and that is Kelso. There are 8 courses that have an IV of more than 2 so it’s quite feasible that a front runner that has performed well at one of those courses before running at Cheltenham is going to struggle to reproduce the same form around Cheltenham if adopting the same tactics once again (again, not taking into account all of the other race factors at play).

It’s possible that Cheltenham simply hosts more competitive races than other tracks which has a knock on effect as to the success rate of front runners but the racing isn’t becoming any less competitive here so it could be wise to expect front runners to struggle to run quite so well here over hurdles as they have done at other courses.

How Strong Is The Cheltenham Pace Bias Over Fences?

Now time to look at the same data set but this time over the larger obstacles.

Once again Cheltenham is pretty consistent in where it appears on the list for each distance but over fences front runners seem to perform much better than over hurdles.

Cheltenham is in the top 30% of performers out of these racecourses when it comes to front runner IV over minimum distances, scoring 2.08. It’s one of only 16 courses that has an IV of more than 2. The course also performs well when it comes to ROI (38.51%) and A/E (Actual v Expected) which is 1.74. Just like IV, 1 is considered standard or average for A/E with a score above 1 a good performance and a score below one a poorer performance.

Over the intermediate distances over fences Cheltenham has the exact same rank as over shorter distances but it’s worth noting that this time around the IV is down to 1.82. That’s still an excellent performance but obviously not quite as strong as it was over shorter.

Whilst Cheltenham holds the same rank again, it’s also worth noting that the courses and the order above and below change which is something to bear in mind when considering relative performance of front runners over these differing distances. Only six racecourses see a better front runner performance by IV for both of the distances examined so far.

Over marathon trips Cheltenham drops one place in terms of overall rank however the IV actually goes up, very slightly, to 1.83. Again the course sees a strong performance across all metrics for front runners. Only Hereford and Doncaster have stronger front runner performance across all three distance bands examined.

Overall it seems pretty clear that Cheltenham tends to favour front runners over fences more so than it does over hurdles. Over the smaller obstacles the front runner ‘advantage’ decreases as you go up in distance whereas over fences it seems to increase (slightly) the further you go.

Runners Of Interest At The Cheltenham November Meeting

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the big betting race on Saturday, due off at 2.15. The last five winners of this had all had a prep run which is interesting given four of the first five in the betting will be making their seasonal debuts here.

With that in mind Midnight Shadow is worth noting given his decent reappearance at Aintree and his strong course record here but his very best form has largely come with a bit more cut in the ground and whether he’s well enough treated to win a race this competitive without the ground being ideal is open to debate. Similar worries apply to Galahad Quest who is another with a good reappearance behind them, solid form claims but a lack of good(ish) ground form.

Zanza is another who has a run under his belt but he’s never really shone in four runs here. Coole Cody, last year’s winner is pretty interesting off just a 4lb higher mark than when taking this 12 months ago. He ran very well here last month reverting to hurdles on good ground and has a nice racing style for this course. He was 4th at the Festival off a 2lb higher mark and should run well again.

Slight preference from those that have had a run this season would be with Manofthemountain at a pretty big price (20/1). He’s still lightly raced for an 8yo and that’s probably been because he’s been kept away from soft ground - he seems very reliant on good ground to show his best. He won here in April (beating Coole Cody by 11 lengths, 9lbs worse off now with Coole Cody) and ran a decent 2nd on seasonal reappearance.

Runner Of Interest Elsewhere

There are a couple of all weather races I am interested in on Saturday, particularly at Lingfield who host a very decent card.

Over a mile in mid sized fields at Lingfield we have a nice sample size which suggests that front runners enjoy a small, but definite advantage.

Invincibly (1.20 Lingfield) isn’t going to get the easiest lead ever but he should get the lead with Corazon Espinado often happy tracking the pace.

Invincibly may be stepping up from class 4 to class 2 but he’s shown plenty in hot form races on his last two starts.

He’s only 5lbs higher than winning this Ayr handicap in which six of the first seven home have won since. He followed that up with another win at Newcastle and that hasn’t worked out badly either, the runner up won recently next time out.

Invincibly is only up 2lbs for this latest win and a mid summer break seems to have brought about plenty of improvement - his form figures since then read 211. Corazon Espinado and One Small Step might be the biggest dangers but if Invincibly is an each way price (he is in the very early betting) he’ll be well worth a punt.

Monday Musings: Breeders’ Cup Digest

It has taken 362 runs from 126 individual horses and many thousands of motorway miles in their distinctive royal blue vans to earn the Charlie Appleby stable £4,827,062 in win and place money this year, writes Tony Stafford. Thus he enters the last seven weeks of 2021 with an unchallenged situation, guaranteeing his first trainers’ championship in the UK.

It took six horses on a single day <if you count UK time, which for the purposes of the starkness of the comparison, I am> walking the few hundred yards from the Del Mar international barn in the backstretch to the saddling area and back, to add £2,690,000 (55.7% of his entire UK endeavours) on November 6 alone.

Purists will point to the last on Friday at 7.30p.m. (daylight saving kicked in a week later in the US than the UK) and the two on Saturday, but in any event they were all comfortably within a 24-hour time-frame. The clocks went back in California at 2 a.m. yesterday earning the team from Moulton Paddocks a theoretical extra hour in bed. I doubt if any of them even bothered to turn in at all!

Six runners made the walk to potential equine immortality, two adorned with the pre-race red hood which denotes a trainer worries sufficiently about his horse’s temperament to defuse the potential problem of walking through the boisterous crowds that line the route to the saddling boxes.

The red-hooded pair were in Friday’s Juvenile Turf, Albahr, drawn two and next to stable-mate Modern Games in one, and on Saturday in the Mile, again on the Turf track, 2,000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas, drawn one with his better-fancied elder stable-companion Space Blues in three.

Connections of many of the other European contenders would have enjoyed the chance of running from those plum draws around the tightest of tight circuits. Conversely, in the aftermath, the ever-measured Appleby said: “When they do get drawn there on the inside, they potentially can have a much longer wait and therefore more time to get upset if that’s their character.

“We had no inkling that the horses would behave in this way and it is something we’ll have to address when we get home. Happily both horses, and riders Frankie Dettori and James Doyle, are fine. Frankie especially was lucky to be dragged from Albahr and it’s unfortunate that the stalls man who helped him, got an injury from the horse.”

From a dual assault on three races, only their runners in the Turf produced the full complement from the stalls, with seven-year-old Walton Street (Doyle) actually a shorter price at the departure than Buick’s mount, Yibir.

Both horses had been sent to North American on September 18 for their previous races. Walton Street was off first in Canada (10.35 p.m. UK time) for the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine which he won in a canter by almost six lengths.

Ten minutes later (10.45 p.m.) it was Yibir’s turn at Belmont Park and he comfortably put away six fellow three-year-olds in the Jockey Club Derby Invitational. This race as yet carries no official Grade category – it was merely a very valuable Conditions race – and Yabir beat a field including Bolshoi Ballet, who finished sixth on Saturday.

That made it more than £500k for the two September 18 races in ten minutes. Yibir’s strong finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to peg back Broome, who had raced into what looked like an invincible lead in the straight, alone earned a second-best prize of the weekend of £1.5 million and change.

All three Godolphin winners won convincingly. Modern Games and Yibir both came wide under Buick from some way back and finished very strongly. Contrastingly, Space Blues was always close to the lead and held off a late challenge to win by half a length. He had been singled out by Appleby as the likeliest winner and in fulfilling that prophecy has earned a deserved place at stud after 11 career wins from 19 starts. As a son of Dubawi he will have every chance of making a success as a stallion.

The best Coolmore Ireland position was Broome’s second to Yibir on a day when Japan, the country, not the horse who was fourth to Yibir, posted (like London buses) its first two wins at the Breeders’ Cup. Broome all this year has worn the silks of M Matsushima, a partner in the five-year-old along with the Magnier, Tabor and Smith triumvirate. [Coolmore did record a score, via Wesley Ward, more of which anon]

A son of Australia, you would imagine Mr Matsushima might want to stand the horse in Japan one day. The racing fraternity will be euphoric after trainer Yashito Yahagi’s double that almost matched the exploits of Appleby and Buick. Japan is spectacularly the best-endowed racing authority in the world. While its industry traditionally has been inward-looking, these so-visible wins will provide more of their top owners and trainers with the confidence to target the biggest prizes all around the world.

Easily the more authoritative of the Japanese triumphs was the fast finish provided by Loves Only You in the Filly and Mare Turf race, extended this year to 1m3f to take account of the configuration of the Del Mar Turf course.

It hadn’t helped Audarya’s attempt at a second successive win after her victory over 9.5 furlongs at Keeneland last year. William Buick – guessing wrong for the only time over the two days – dropped her in from her widest draw, got across nicely and in good position on the rail only to run into an equine brick wall turning for home. In the circumstances, fifth and 40-odd grand would have been consolation for the Swinburn and Fanshawe families.

Love’s route could hardly have been worse, three wide all the way. She had the class to strike for the lead in the straight but was soon challenged and in the end could manage only fourth as Loves Only You brought her earnings within a UK Group 1 success of £5million. A five-year-old daughter of Deep Impact, she has a wonderful turn of foot.

No UK-based jockey has as strong an association with Japanese racing as Oisin Murphy, who spends as much of his winters – and collects as many billions of Yen – as he can riding over there. His association with Deirdre, now a seven-year-old on whom he won the 2019 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, was a comparable breakthrough to Saturday’s at the time.

Oisin was seen congratulating the Japanese rider Yuga Kawada straight after the Filly and Mare Turf and two hours later he joined the party in his own right, partnering Marche Lorraine, also a five-year-old, in the Distaff on the dirt track.

This race was supposed to be a private affair between some fast locals, but they went much too quickly, cancelling each other out and all giving in before the straight. Oisin could be seen halfway down the back going best, his red cap moving forward while his mare, a 50-1 shot, was still under restraint. That collapse up front meant he got the lead too soon and in the end it took a triple champion’s ability to keep her going for a short-head verdict.

I loved the day’s final race, the Classic, where Knicks Go beat Medina Spirit, and I also very much enjoyed Life Is Good, runaway winner of the Dirt Mile and Golden Pal, flying winner of the Turf Sprint, the last named for Coolmore America and Wesley Ward.

Also, I’ve never seen a horse running in a million plus dollar race but not for betting purposes. The former favourite too, Modern Games bolting up to a chorus of boos from the crowd who had been obliged to give back their tickets for refund as the horses waited to go. [Worse still, our esteemed editor had ‘singled’ Modern Games in the last leg of a Pick 4: his sole option re-routing to the non-winning favourite in the race!]

No boos from the Doncaster crowd on the final day of the 2021 turf season at Doncaster. John Butler’s Farhan, the 9-2 favourite for the season’s final big event, the November Handicap, ridden by Hollie Doyle, bolted up. The only piece of luck was that the three-year-old son of Zoffany squeezed in exactly as number 23 at the foot of the weights. The triumph (and landed gamble) was delivered with military precision by trainer and rider on probably Hollie’s last year not to be asked to ride at the Breeders’ Cup.

Butler has another important assignment this week. On Friday Poetic Music, an easy bumper winner on debut at Market Rasen, is lot number 1 at Tattersalls Cheltenham post-racing sale. A big filly, she looks the type to figure in black type juvenile fillies’ races for the rest of the season. So bid away – you will be making someone very happy!

One happy camper – and he always has winners when in the US for the Breeders’ Cup – was my already mentioned editor Matt Bisogno, who runs the Geegeez syndicates. Their mare Coquelicot was an easy winner at Chepstow last week, adding a first jumps success to three including a Listed in bumpers. The only way is up, Matt!

November Handicap Draw and Pace Bias Revealed

The flat turf season has it’s last hurrah of the year this weekend with the November Handicap the big betting race on Doncaster's card.

I recently went through straight course biases at Doncaster, the home of the November Handicap, and if you want to remind yourself of my findings ahead of this meeting you can click here to do so.

This article will be concentrating on the round course though and I’ll be previewing the November Handicap runners as well.

Doncaster Round Course Pace Bias For The November Handicap

The pace data at Doncaster for both the 10f distance and 12f distance are both very similar so I am going to combine them here so that this information can be used for other round course races, including the British EBF Gillies Fillies’ Stakes on this card, run over 10f.

In big fields here (14 or more runners) it seems as though it is best of all to race prominently. The best win and place percentages are recorded for this run style (8.02% and 24.69% respectively).

The metrics for front runners give out some slightly contrasting data. The win percentage of 6.67% is bettered only by prominent racers however the place percentage of 13.33% is comfortably the worst performer. Given more data contributes to the place percentages it may seem wise to put more emphasis on this data.

The place percentage for mid division is only very marginally worse than that of prominent so it doesn’t seem to be any sort of disadvantage to follow this run style here however there is a drop off when it comes to hold up performers so it’s probably best to mark this run style down slightly when looking through each field unless the horse in question appears to have plenty in hand and/or there is a strong pace likely.

November Handicap Draw Bias

There wasn’t much variance in the data between distances as far as the pace bias at Doncaster on the round course was concerned but there does seem to be a slight shift when it comes to the draw bias at Doncaster so this time I will only be looking at the 12f distance over which the November Handicap is run.

The win data seems to suggest that ‘not low’ is best as 25 of the 30 wins have been scored by runners drawn either middle or high. The place percentage data is much closer and implies that middle is best of all with low and high both evenly matched - a far cry from the win data.

The PRB data could be most telling here given every runner contributes and this once again suggest middle is the best place to be. It’s not exactly a massive advantage as middle has a PRB of 0.53 compared to 0.49 for high and 0.48 for low, but there does certainly seem to be a bias towards those drawn in the middle.

It’s now time to look at the individual stall data to dig into this further.

Looking first at the place percentages, of the top fourteen stalls, the lowest six stalls are not particularly well represented (only 2 and 5 feature) although 2 does come out with the best over place percentage. In the bottom nine stalls for this metric, three of them are stall 4 or lower and three of them are stall 19 or higher. This is suggesting that the very lowest and very highest stalls could be a bit of a disadvantage which is why we’ve probably seen the middle stalls top most metrics in the low v middle v high comparison.

If you go through the individual PRB figures, nine of the top ten performers are stall 9 or above, which backs up the impression once again that despite low generally being perceived as the place to be around a bend, this probably isn’t the case here. Six of the worst eleven performers are stalls 8 or below.

This isn’t a huge sample so the PRB3 data is most reliable in giving us an overall idea of the best areas of the draw and this is represented in the line graph at the bottom of the image above.

In line with the rest of the data I have highlighted, the very best parts of the draw seem to be between stalls 9 and 18. The very best place to be drawn is probably in the mid to low teens to be precise.

These are only micro advantages though, stalls 2, 5, 7 and 8 all produce plenty of places over this course and distance so it’s not a case of ruling out the majority of the singles figures, or the draws that are 19+. If deciding between two or three runners on a shortlist it may be best to favour those drawn as central as possible though.

November Handicap Draw and Pace Combination

This heat map suggests that leading isn’t going to be a great tactic here, but it’s especially ineffective from a middle draw, which is statistically the place to be in general.

If leading isn’t a good run style for those drawn in the middle, what is? Prominent racers perform extremely well from middle draws, in fact they are seen to best effect of any draw/pace combination here. Mid division is next best for this draw followed by being held up.

If drawn low, there is very little difference in performance between being held up, racing in mid division or racing prominently.

It’s interesting to note that the best tactics for those drawn high are being held up. It’s certainly a case of the more patient ride the better for those drawn high, presumably those that aren’t dropped in suffer a particularly wide trip around the bend.

November Handicap 2021 Preview

As usual, I’d like to take a look at the pace map for this race first.

It looks like the pace is going to come from the very lowest and very highest stalls, courtesy of Whitehaven and Nuit St George. The latter was 3rd in this last year off a 6lb lower mark and a better draw so he could be up against it to reach the places this time around.

There are plenty who can lead in the centre but don’t necessarily habitually lead. It’s unlikely anything will be able to beat Whitehaven to the lead from stall 1 so the likes of Cardano, First Light, Skycutter and Wells Farhh Go should all be prominent as a minimum from their middle draws, and it’s worth noting that run style can be somewhat advantaged from that draw.

We know that the best run style for those drawn high tends to be held up so the main two from the high draws to make appeal on a draw and pace combination are Flyin Solo and Platinumcard, whilst Farhan and Prince Alex should also be considered.

A decent test at the trip seems likely given the softish ground (could be quite tacky with no rain in the more recent build up) and the presence of several pace angles.

It will need to be a decent pace to suit a few of the well fancied runners, notably Calling The Wind and East Asia. I liked Calling The Wind for the Cesarewitch apart from the draw and whilst he seemed to prove his speed for this trip two starts ago at Newbury, he’s gone up another 3lbs since then and might not be well enough handicapped over this trip in this company. East Asia bounced back to form with another win 10 days ago (his 4th of the season) and another 5lbs on his back might not be enough to stop him based on how he won that but he does need to translate all his progression this season to this trip (won on seasonal debut over 12f but off a 20lbs lower mark).

First Light has been the early favourite. He represents John Gosden who has won this race six times, including three wins since 2009. He’s one of three 3yos in this and the classic generation dominated this in the 90s and 00s (11 winners in that period) but they’ve managed just one win from 34 runners since 2009. This age group has the 5th worst place percentage since then, only 7yos have performed worse. It is the 4yos that have the clear best place percentage (23.26%) whilst 6yos are next best but some way off with just 17.5%. The best win percentage also belongs to 4yos.

The trainer name and record in this does seem to have had an effect on First Light’s odds. He won an Ascot handicap in July, a race that has worked out okay at best, and he followed that up with a very poor effort in the 14f listed race last time out. He wasn’t totally disgraced given his rating and the distance (he’d also been off for two months before) but he looks a poor favourite all things considered.

Sam Cooke was sent off just 7/2 for this race last year and is only 1lb higher this time around plus he arrives here in top form so he merits plenty of consideration. He seems to have finally learned to settle again in recent starts and he’s well drawn here but despite previously seeming suited to a soft surface, all his best form this season has coincided with faster ground so there are some questions to answer. It would be no surprise if he ran well but the ground has suddenly become a bit of an unknown for him.

Mr Curiosity could still be anything and he was backed last time out as if defeat was out of the question - and it was as he won by over 5 lengths. That was a poor race though over further and he's not guaranteed to be as well handicapped over this distance in better company. He's preferred to First Light at similar prices and would probably make a stronger favourite than that rival but opposable overall.

All of Global Storm’s best form has come at Newmarket so I’m happy enough to take him on, whilst I’ve always been a Rhythmic Intent fan and he was runner up in this last year but he threw in a bad performance last time out and his win in the Mallard Handicap has probably left him a bit high in the weights. He was behind Dark Jedi last time out over course and distance and that rival travelled like a dream that day only to get beaten late on by a well handicapped rival. He’s gone up 2lbs for that which makes life tougher but he could easily run into a place.

It will be interesting to see if first time blinkers can bring about a return to form for Deja, who is well handicapped on last season’s form but he’s been well off it this season.

The pair I am most interested in from a handicapping point of view (and this is a handicap after all) are Flyin’ Solo and Farhaan. Both are maybe drawn a little higher than ideal but have some good handicap form to their names and should still be open to more improvement.

Flyin’ Solo won one of the best handicaps of the season in April at Newbury over 10f - he’s subsequently a stone higher but the runner up has won off a stone higher mark and the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th have all won subsequently. He won a York handicap comfortably next time out on good to soft ground (the softest ground he has encountered) and having gone up 9lbs for that he’s looked just about in the grip of the handicapper since, albeit running pretty well in defeat.

Those runs might be better than they seem though.

At Windsor he was poorly placed as the race developed and the other five runners to finish in the first six all finished either 1st or 2nd shortly after suggesting it was a decent race. Then last time out he was 3rd in a race where the winner and 5th finished runner up next time and the 4th won shortly after. He picked up an injury in that race too, which is why he hasn’t been seen since.

The fact that he’s been gelded since suggests he could have more improvement left in the tank. This will be the softest ground he has encountered but his career best performance came on the softest ground he has run on so far and he’s by Roderic O’Connor whose offspring perform best from a place percentage perspective on either good to soft or soft ground. Flyin’ Solo’s sire was a heavy ground Group 1 winner himself.

Farhaan has been consistent this season, finishing runner up on four of his five starts this year. He excelled in soft ground on his final start as a 2yo but hasn’t had soft ground since and has probably run his two best races this season on the two races he’s had on good to soft ground. Those were a 2nd over 10f at Sandown, staying on well to be beaten just a neck, and also a 2nd in the Old Rowley Cup, generally one of the most competitive handicaps of the season. He's had a pretty light campaign, is very consistent and remains completely unexposed over this sort of test.

Summary

I can see both running very well and being amongst the places. Farhaan’s tendency to finish 2nd and the recent record of 3yos in this race is slightly off putting so preference would be for FLYIN' SOLO, representing 4yos who do so well in this. This being his first run since a slight injury is a bit of a question mark but he’s still had just 8 starts so should have plenty more left to give and there should be enough pace to carry him into the race. The fact that he comes here a fresh horse at the end of a long season could be what gives him the biggest edge.

East Asia and Calling The Wind should run well enough, possibly without being quick enough whilst Dark Jedi is another who should provide a decent run for each way punters. 

Monday Musings: The New Phar Lap?

A lot of my friends are setting out today for the trip to the beautiful racecourse of Del Mar, just north of La Jolla (and Torrey Pines golf course) in Southern California, close to the wonderful City of San Diego, writes Tony Stafford.  That makes it not too far from the border with Mexico and Tijuana, where locals make their brass selling cheap religious items to unwitting tourists by the roadside.

Some of the above-mentioned pals, not just content with a week where the Turf Meets the Surf – Bing Crosby 1937 – will then tootle down the road to spend a second week at Palm Springs. Nice work? Hardly, if you can get it!

In recent years it has been possible to leave the US right after the two days of Breeders’ Cup excitement onto a flight that crossed the international dateline but arrived in Australia in time for “The Race That Stops the Nation” on the first Tuesday in November.

This time the Melbourne Cup will proceed without some of its usual adherents as it precedes its international counter-attraction. In 2020 it was staged with severe Covid-induced restrictions. Fourteen of the 24 runners started out in Europe, eight – including the winner, Twilight Payment – were still trained there when setting off for the always difficult journey and preparation.

Joseph O’Brien trained the winner and he will be back again, his now eight-year-old Australian-owned marvel this time as top-weight carrying around 9st2lb (58k), 6lb more than last year.

He shares second favouritism with the Andrew Balding-trained Spanish Mission, of whom there were serious doubts as to participation as the new veterinary rules flexed their theoretical muscles. He is safely in the list, but I would imagine the vets will have the same sort of scrutiny right up to the morning of the race that caused Hughie Morrison’s 2018 runner-up Marmelo to be being excluded from the 2019 renewal. Marmelo was strongly fancied having won the Doncaster Cup last time out but the local veterinarians differed with the opinion of the trainer and owners’ vets who consistently pronounced him sound.

Astonishingly, with half the 24-strong field for Tuesday - officially announced with draw yesterday - emanating from Europe, these two will be the sole European-trained contenders. Both have top form this year, Twilight Payment finishing second to Sonnyboyliston in the Irish St Leger and Spanish Mission running a close second to Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Stakes at York in August.

Nothing else is coming. No Aidan O’Brien, whose sadness at losing his 2019 Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck with fatal injury in last year’s contest might have swayed him against sending any of his better-class stayers at the end of an arduous campaign.

Another trainer persuaded by potential queries from the beefed-up vets’ panel to make an early decision against sending his best horse was Charlie Fellowes. His Prince Of Arran, an eight-year-old contemporary of Twilight Payment’s, had been third, second and third again in the last three Melbourne Cups.

The place money amassed from those heroic challenges exceeded £1.5 million towards Prince Of Arran’s career win and place earnings of just over £2 million. In retrospect, the decision, while probably agonising at the time, now looks fortuitous as on all this year’s form the gelding would have struggled to make an impact.

Last Monday when talking about Joseph O’Brien’s latest Australian exploit in winning the Cox Plate, I also referred to the previous winner of that prestigious weight-for-age race. That was the beaten 2019 Investec Derby favourite Sir Dragonet, third at Epsom behind ill-fated Anthony Van Dyck.

The colt had also been a creditable sixth in last year’s Melbourne Cup, just a few days on from his Cox Plate exploits. These excellent performances came from his new base at Warwick Farm, where he ran under the banner of the hirsute Ciaran Maher, one of the most successful of the domestic trainers over there.

At least Maher, who has four of the 24 in tomorrow’s field, has a British element to his stable which has three bases, two satellites apart from Warwick Farm.

Six years ago, a young Englishman, son of a long-standing and much respected Newmarket trainer, like so many before him, tried his luck in the Antipodes. So impressed was Maher in his young pupil’s diligence and innovation that in 2018 he added the name of David Eustace, son of James and brother of Harry who now runs the family stable back home, as joint-trainer.

That means we have an English trainer with four runners in the great race to add to Andrew Balding. Only the legendary Chris Waller, trainer of Winx but yet to win the Cup, matches their representation. Waller is less likely than Maher/Eustace to win as the partners’ Floating Artist (11-1) and Grand Promenade (14-1) are the next pair in the betting.

But this will be a Melbourne Cup with a couple of differences. For me, never getting there – that was always the province of fellow Telegraph man, “Aussie Jim” McGrath -  invariably meant staying up all night to see the show on telly.

On Tuesday when I went to Tatts Horses in Training sale watching the Australians make their ever-more expensive buys for next winter as they jousted with the Saudis for new middle-distance talent, I happened to run into John Berry.

He has been an integral and vital part of Melbourne Cup nights with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian and New Zealand form and I asked him if he was all set for Tuesday. A sad look came into that made for radio face – sorry John – as he related that the invitation always comes well in advance. As this October it hadn’t he feared he would, like me, watch it on the sofa.

Unless there was an oversight in the Sky Sports office, Newmarket’s former Mayor seems to have gone the way of so many other Sky staples – the latest being  Jeff Stelling who announced he will be going, too, at the end of the year. Can’t be much fun getting old, can it?

The other big difference of course, unless you haven’t heard of him, is a locally-trained five-year-old called Incentivise who until April 11 this year had the career record of three runs and no places, never mind wins.

He was a 17/1 chance for his fourth race but won that by three lengths and he went on to win another five races, all by wide margins in the next few weeks.

At season’s end it was decided that he needed to be moved to Melbourne as the Covid rules would have been complicated had he remained in his original base in Southern Queensland. He was transferred to top handler Peter Moody whose brief was to campaign him at the Melbourne Spring Festival.

The move also needed a new jockey for the same reason, and the gelding turned up with Brett Prebble at Flemington racecourse on September 11 for the Makybe Diva Stakes. This first Group 1 challenge commemorates Australia’s greatest staying racemare, the only triple winner of the Melbourne Cup. Her hat-trick was achieved between 2003 and 2005.

They made all the running, winning by half a length. Incentivise followed up in another Group 1 on October 2. Two weeks later he achieved what was by common consent from the experts and public alike, the most impressive performance in the Caulfield Cup in living memory.. He won that race by a very easy three lengths and few observers in Australia believe he can be beaten tomorrow. Nine wins in a row since April 11 yet still receiving 2lb from the top-weight? His price of 7-4 almost looks generous!

Australians hanker after another Phar Lap, the hero from the 1930’s who was their between-the-World Wars equivalent of Seabiscuit in the US. After their past-sell-by date cricketers’ performance in the World 20/20 group qualifying match against England, they could do with a modern-day hero, human or equine.

I confess I cannot see him beaten. As to the Breeders’ Cup it would be nice if James Fanshawe could repeat last year’s victory of Audarya and win a second Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar. I have a friend who has an interest.

Siobhan Doolan, highly-talented horsewoman and grand-daughter of Wilf Storey, had earmarked a Fanshawe horse in last week’s sale, the yet to win but lightly-raced four-year-old gelding Going Underground. Like Incentivise he made a slow start to his career, not appearing until late on as a three-year-old in December last year. Sadly, there the similarity ends, but the young lady is very happy with her nice-moving purchase since getting him home.

Siobhan made a discovery about him. Whether it’s correct or not I will try to find out from the horse’s mouth but I won’t ask until next week as James never likes to talk about his horses before they run.

This is the question. Is it true that Going Underground was a galloping companion with Audarya this summer?  Should it be true it would be a nice thought that her £5k buy in a very tough market might have helped a horse win another Breeders’ Cup race. Siobhan will be preparing him in the mornings for his imminent campaign before settling down to her bloodstock insurance work. Good luck Shiv – and grandad of course!

  • TS

Wetherby Pace Bias Over Both Hurdles And Fences

The first weekend in a very long time where national hunt racing is the sole serving on ITV and although the flat isn’t completely done with yet (it’s the November Handicap next week which signals the official end of the flat turf season), jumps racing will largely be the focus in the coming months.

Ascot and Wetherby host the majority of Saturday’s live races and it will be interesting to look at potential pace biases at both tracks over the winter. This is Wetherby’s big day, whereas Ascot has other feature days, so I’m going to concentrate on Wetherby this week.

Wetherby Hurdle Pace Bias

Wetherby hosts hurdle races over 2m, 2.5m and 3m at this meeting so I’ll look at each distance individually.

2m Hurdle Pace Bias At Wetherby

Let’s first examine the pace bias over the minimum distance over hurdles here.

This course and distance certainly seems to suit those up with the pace when racing over hurdles. Front runners have both the best win percentage and place percentage in medium sized fields.

Front runners have produced an 18.37% win strike rate and a 38.78% place percentage, with this run style proving profitable when backed blind for both win and each way purposes.

Prominent racers have the clear second best win percentage although they are narrowly third best to mid division when it comes to place percentage.

Those that are held up certainly seem at a disadvantage here with the worst win percentage (6.38%) and comfortably the worst place percentage (23.4%).

2.5m Hurdle Pace Bias At Wetherby

Do we see the same sort of pace bias over a little further here?

The answer is no. This time around front runners have the worst win strike rate and hold up performers have the best win strike rate. This trend isn’t quite echoed with the place percentages, which do hold more weight in a sample of this size, but the win percentages and place percentages are all very closely matched.

The only run style here that is profitable, and profitable for both win and each way bets, is mid division so that may be most favoured but the bottom line over this two and a half mile trip over hurdles at Wetherby is that there doesn’t look to be any real sort of pace bias.

3m Hurdle Pace Bias At Wetherby

So how does the data over a three mile trip look like?

Not the biggest of samples here but we do see a slight swing back to front runners enjoying the run of things over this longer distance with the pacesetters gaining both the best win percentage and best place percentage.

Front runners certainly aren’t as dominant as they were over 2m here though and the data is far more closely matched, just as it was over half a mile shorter.

Front runners are profitable to back blind for both win and each way purposes and prominent racers have the next best place percentage suggesting that being nearer the pace is certainly some sort of advantage. There is only around 5.5% difference though in place percentages between front runners and being held up so the pace bias here, and there does seem to be one, is not a strong one.

Wetherby Chase Pace Bias

The main races over fences at this meeting are run over 2.5m and 3m so these distances will be the focus over the larger obstacles.

2.5m Chase Pace Bias At Wetherby

This distance was pretty even and fair over hurdles and although there isn’t a huge amount in the figures here we do seem to see a bias towards those who race nearer the pace.

The best win percentages and place percentages belong to front runners and prominent racers (front runners edge it as far as the win data is concerned, prominent racers do better for place purposes).

Meanwhile the worst of the data performance belongs to mid division and held up.

There does seem a fairly substantial drop off in place strike rate when you go from prominent to mid division. Prominent racers have a place percentage of 37.95% and that drops all the way down to 25% (the same as hold up performers have) for mid division.

The takeaway here seems to be that when racing over 2.5m over fences at Wetherby it pays to be in the front half of the field early.

3m Chase Pace Bias At Wetherby

It’s difficult to know what to make of this data with front runners having the worst win percentage but the best place percentage.

The overall trend for the win data is also difficult to decipher given how up and down it is so it should definitely pay to concentrate on the place data, which gives us three times as much data as the win sample.

As previously mentioned, the top place percentage belongs to front runners here and it’s also worth noting that the worst place percentage goes to those that are held up. There is over 10% difference in the figures which seems fairly significant.

Prominent and mid division are fairly closely matched and although mid division actually slightly outperforms prominent the overall trajectory of the place percentages seems to suggest closer to the pace the better but the bias towards those nearer the pace doesn’t seem as strong as it is over shorter distances here.

Hopefully this information helps you pick a few more winners, and a few less losers at Wetherby this weekend and this season.

Newmarket Analysis

As far as betting races are concerned this weekend, for me there are a couple of interesting contests over at Newmarket whilst the majority of the jumpers get their seasonal pipe openers out of the way.

The 2.23 at Newmarket is a class 3 mile handicap and judging by the very early betting I’d rather be with the bigger prices than the shorter prices. This is definitely the race I’m most interested in.

I’m still fairly interested in Scottish Summit despite the fact that he’s without a win in 13 months and just seems to be finding one or two too good in almost every race. He was better than the bare form last time at Redcar (had to switch away from the favoured rail to get a run and was racing against a pace bias) and before that he’d been in good form, finding just a lightly raced, promising 3yo too good when travelling best at Doncaster. He should be good for another place again here.

I quite fancied Fairy Cakes last time out at Newbury as she had a couple of interesting pieces of form to her name. She beat the progressive Wink Of An Eye early in the season at Goodwood. Admittedly Fairy Cakes is now 15lbs higher but she beat that rival by 2 lengths and Wink Of An Eye is now rated 25lbs higher and the 3rd also won next time out giving that form a really solid look.

Fairy Cakes is proven off a higher mark too.

She dropped back to this mile trip at Sandown in June and finished 2nd to Hoodwinker, who has won again since. The 3rd won her next two starts, the fifth won next time out and even the 7th won two starts later.

When racing six weeks later off a 1lb higher mark I thought she was a very good thing but she was weak in the betting and finished last, beaten 24 lengths. She’s been off since and that run came 108 days ago so it clearly wasn’t her running but will she be able to resume progression here?

The good news is that trainer Eve Johnson Houghton has had two winners and two runners up from her last six runners, including two at 33/1, so she’s clearly got her string running well. In the past 12 months though her handicap runners have achieved a PRB of 0.51 but her handicap runners who have been off 60+ days have only managed a PRB of 0.4 so Fairy Cakes isn’t guaranteed to be fully wound up unfortunately. Any rain could be against her too. One to watch in the market maybe.

It’s also worth mentioning Redarna, probably not with this race in mind. I wrote ahead of his run at the Ayr Western Meeting that with a bit of cut in the ground he would probably be pretty much unbeatable at that venue in the right sort of company given his record at the track. I was therefore pretty perplexed when he was weak in the market and one of the first beaten. However he returned there just two weeks later and won a better race comfortably, proving my theory about him correct to a certain degree.

He’s since let that form down slightly at York but that’s clearly not his course and it’s worth noting how well his Ayr win has now worked out.

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th have all won since whilst the 5th, 6th and 7th have all placed since. Redarna is definitely one to look out for again next season at Ayr, even at the ripe old age of 8 which he'll hit at the turn of the year.

But with this race in mind I’m going to be backing Scottish Summit to place and I’ll be monitoring Fairy Cakes in the market.

Monday Musings: from Luxembourg to Oz

Luxembourg’s emphatic success in Saturday’s Vertem Futurity, the final Group 1 race of the year in the UK, reminded us not to under-estimate the power of the Aidan O’Brien team, writes Tony Stafford.

As he conceded after the victory, things have been going rather less his way than we have come to expect, but a year in which St Mark’s Basilica, Snowfall and now this feasible 2,000 Guineas alternative to the Charlie Appleby two – Native Trail and Coroebus - have been around, it is hardly the disaster it was being painted of late.

More of Luxembourg later but eight hours before the big race at Doncaster, a ten furlong Group 1 race, the private property of that unforgettable Australian mare Winx between 2015 and 2018, was being decided.

The Ladbrokes Cox Plate, run at the tight Moonee Valley racecourse in Melbourne, is universally known as Australia’s principal weight-for-age race – the even more valuable Melbourne Cup is a handicap. Joseph O’Brien, already winning trainer of two of the last four Melbourne Cups, as against his father’s still frustrating blank in the race that stops Australia on the first Tuesday of November every year, took the £1,700,000 first prize on Saturday morning with the three-year-old colt State Of Rest.

As befits a race of its value, the opposition was stern and the second and third home, the joint-favourites at 13-5, fully deserve such a description. It took a full 20 minutes’ deliberation from the stewards to decide that Craig Williams’ objection to the winner and his rider John Allen on behalf of short-head runner-up Anamoe would be rejected. Third, staying on, was the champion mare Verry Elleegant, veteran of both successful and less so Group 1 tilts with William Haggas’s globe-trotter Addeybb among 12 wins from 30 starts.

Moonee Valley might not be Verry Elleegant’s favourite track, but the five-year-old had to concede only 1lb to her three-year-old rival (actually she counts as only a year and a half his elder because of the difference in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere breeding seasons. Anamoe, who had won a Group 1 two weeks before, the £678k to the winner Caulfield Guineas over a mile, carrying 9st as the 11/10 favourite, was foaled seven months after the winner. He received 16lb from the O’Brien horse and while the same age, will not actually be three years old until next month.

Topically, Saturday was the anniversary of State Of Rest’s final run as a juvenile when finishing fifth behind subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney in last year’s Futurity. He had a busy time running six races between June and October of his juvenile season and was probably ready for a quiet spring.
O’Brien delayed his comeback until the last week in June when he tackled a one-mile Listed race at The Curragh.

Conceding 10lb to both the winner Fourhometoo and runner-up Khartoum, he struggled to get a run until the last 100 yards, then flew home and would have galloped right by those mid 100’s rated and race-fit rivals in another few strides.

Until Saturday, there had been one more run, a highly-ambitious challenge to his father’s beaten Derby favourite Bolshoi Ballet at Saratoga. After Epsom, Bolshoi Ballet had gone some way to restoring his reputation with a win the following month at Belmont Park and the Saratoga Derby, a Grade 1 worth £390k and run over 9.5 furlongs at the Spa in mid-August at the time looked his for the taking. Its timing for the younger O’Brien was ideal as it gave State of Rest time to recover from his returning Curragh exertions.

Understandably, dad’s runner was a shade of odds against while the main dangers according to the betting were Jessica Harrington’s Cadillac at 9/2 and Charlie Appleby’s Secret Protector at 5/1.
Having looked back at the Curragh comeback third and the way he finished the race it seems inconceivable that State Of Rest could have been allowed to start at more than 20/1 in that company. The betting clearly suggested the home team was nothing much, yet here was a horse already worth a rating in the mid-110’s starting that price – and he had legendary East Coast rider John Velazquez in the saddle to boot.

The outcome was a one-length win in the colours of Teme Valley Racing, while Bolshoi Ballet was only fourth and the other raiders were further back. The win was much to the elation of the owners’ Racing Manager Richard Ryan, who has a wealth of experience in many facets of the racing industry.

Ryan was the long-term assistant to the late Terry Mills, who made his money in the waste disposal and demolition businesses. Many Epsom habituees ascribed much of the stable’s success to his quiet and ever discreet right-hand-man. Then after Mills’ death and son Robert’s brief spell at the helm, he left Epsom and worked the sales, before joining Ian Williams as assistant.

In that period and then since relinquishing that full-time role he has continued to unearth good horses for the trainer’s clients. Now he represents Goff’s at auctions as well as his role with Teme Valley and also maintains a close relationship with Williams.

To run horses trained in Europe for major races in Australia was always akin to a military exercise, but Joseph outlined in detail the extra hoops that are required post-, or rather, where Australia is concerned, mid-Covid. Those, together with the increased veterinary procedures imposed after Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck’s fatal injury in last year’s Melbourne Cup, have caused a number of UK trainers to abandon proposed Melbourne Cup challenges this winter.

Anthony Van Dyck’s demise took some of the family gloss off Joseph’s success with the seven-year-old Twilight Payment in the Cup last year. At least Aidan can point to his own Cox Plate seven years ago with Adelaide, now a stallion in Australia, while last year’s Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet spent his formative years, indeed all his races before the Cox Plate, at Ballydoyle.

The beaten 11-4 favourite in Anthony Van Dyck’s 2019 Derby, he ended his time with O’Brien with a second to the great Magical in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh in July last year. His first run under Chris Waller’s care brought his Cox Plate win at the main expense of another former stable-companion Armory and he was then sixth in the Melbourne Cup, although his form this year has been nowhere near that level.

Doncaster’s confirmation that Luxembourg was indeed a potential Classic horse was underlined on Saturday as he drew steadily if not spectacularly away from three nice horses. Sissoko (Donnacha O’Brien), was just under two lengths behind the winner and only narrowly in front of another of Teme Valley’s (with Jock O’Connor’s Ballylinch Stud), the Roger Varian colt Bayside Boy, and Hannibal Barca inches back in fourth. This made it ten Futurity victories in 24 years for O’Brien enabling him to match the late Sir Henry Cecil’s record within the precise same time scale.

Brian Meehan had been bullish when we spoke on Saturday morning about the place chances of Hannibal Barca and it looked for much of the last furlong that the 50-1 each-way taken about the Sam Sangster-owned colt would collect. Sadly though track position on the far side as they came up the middle probably didn’t help rider Paul Mulrennan on the run home.

I’m going to the sales on Tuesday and it will be interesting to look into the box scheduled to be housing Hannibal Barca who until Sam and Brian wake up after the inevitable party they had for getting the 55,000gns son of Zoffany to a rating of at least 110, they will almost certainly pull him out. Then again they might let him have a spin round the ring with a big reserve. That would be nice. I’ll be there boys – and how I love a show!

Jumping proper started again with two days of Cheltenham and record crowds for the October meeting. The last time they had a crowd at Cheltenham, in March last year, the blame game merchants pointed to that largely outdoor gathering as a major component in the spread of Covid-19. With figures going up again that fixture is again a possible target for criticism, but the 76,000 crammed in at Old Trafford to watch Liverpool demolish Manchester United would potentially be a larger worry I would have thought. The maladies for distraught home fans might extend beyond Covid!

The most impressive Cheltenham performance for me was the flashy chase debut of the Skeltons’ First Time Lucki. A 144-rated hurdler after three wins from seven starts adding to two out of four in bumpers he looks destined for a much higher level over fences.

His jumping was fast, accurate and spectacular. At no time did Harry Skelton have a second’s concern and the eight lengths and the rest he had over some good horses in this initial novice chase could easily have been doubled had the champion jockey wished. Allmankind was similarly impressive for the brothers at Aintree yesterday.

That man (Harry) is going to be very hard to beat in his attempt at a second title and brother Dan might be an outside bet for the trainers’ title. Admittedly Fergal O’Brien is setting a very fast pace already up to 60 and if some of his potential stars waiting in the wings come through he could figure in the argument too.

Meanwhile Hollie Doyle, faced with what had looked a daunting calendar year record score of 152 for a female jockey she set in 2020, has passed it with two months to spare. Her initial title will not be long delayed.

Talking of titles, Johnny Weatherby, long-time Queen’s Representative at Ascot has been knighted. Was it Arise Sir John, or Arise Sir Johnny? I’m not sure if anyone’s taking money on it – it’s a bit like those bets on the Queen’s hat colour every day by those bookies before racing attracting once-a-year racegoers on the way from the main entrance to the grandstand. I’m sure they have their card marked! Psst- it was Sir John!!!

-TS

Doncaster Draw and Pace Bias On The Straight Track

As we move towards the jumps season the quality of Saturday flat recent declines, and we start seeing live weekend racing from Cheltenham once again.

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There is still pretty good racing from Doncaster though on Saturday, including Group 1 action, and it’s worth noting that seven of the eight races at Doncaster on Saturday will be run on the straight course. This must therefore be the ideal opportunity to investigate potential draw and pace biases at Doncaster on softer ground, which tends to dominate conditions at this time of year.

Doncaster Straight Course Draw Bias On Softer Ground

On straight courses you don’t tend to see draw biases change over different distances so we can look at a collection of distances together to get as much data as possible at courses such as Doncaster.


Overall across these distances there seems very little between the data for each draw type. The win percentages and place percentages are all pretty similar whilst the PRB figures suggest high is maybe slightly better with a PRB of 0.52 compared to 0.49 for both low and middle.

This data probably means one of two things. The first is that there is simply no real draw bias at Doncaster and you can have a pretty much even chance whichever part of the course you race on.

The second possibility is that at different points in the year there can be varying biases in the course and sometimes it’s better to be drawn a bit lower, and sometimes it’s better to be drawn higher. This can be the case at Ascot and is probably the case here too.

At the Lincoln meeting in 2021 for example, a high draw seemed very important. At this meeting in 2020 a low draw seemed an advantage.

If betting before a meeting begins, going for something towards the middle might be the safest option as you’ll never be too far away from favoured part of the course (if there is one). If possible it could be best to hold bets until a few races have developed. Even then though, the jockeys can suddenly explore a different part of the track and decide that is the favoured side.

Doncaster Straight Course Pace Bias On Softer Ground

Is the pace bias going to be any easier to predict? Front runners tend to be favoured more over shorter trips so it’s a good idea to look at each straight course distance separately this time.

Doncaster 5f Pace Bias

This shows why it is good to compare both win and place percentages. Amazingly from the above sample, which is for biggish fields on good or worse ground, no front runners have won which obviously gives them a 0% win strike rate. That’s pretty rare for the minimum distance! However the best place percentage of these run styles belongs to none other than front runners - they have a 25% place strike rate.

Prominent run styles here over the minimum dominant in terms of win percentages and provide by far more winners than any other run type. They are also only just behind front runners in terms of place percentage so it seems being close to the pace is definitely an advantage, as it is at most courses over 5f. But being right on the pace in bigger fields must leave you vulnerable here in the final furlong handing the advantage, as far as winning is concerned, to the prominent racers.

Given an advantage for prominent racers and front runners you’d expect mid division to perform better than held up but although it’s close, held up actually edges mid division. It’s certainly not the case that it’s impossible to come from way off the pace here over 5f and granted a decent early gallop and good form it would be unwise to be completely put off those that are patiently ridden but it’s definitely worth marking up those that race prominently in many races over this trip.

Doncaster 6f Pace Bias

The prominent racer bias doesn’t lend itself to all sprint trips here, over 6f the pendulum swings firmly in favour of front runners, despite the large field sizes in the sample.

Front runners impressively dominate and produce very healthy win and each way profits. There is no reason I can think of why they should be more effective over 6f than 5f but it simply seems to be the case.

Prominent racers actually fare worst of all now but only marginally worse than mid division or held up. This again suggests that just because there is an advantage towards either front runners or prominent racers, it is not a huge disadvantage to be held up.

So just as was the case with 5f, don’t rule out anything based on run style but do mark up the chances of a certain run style, this time front runners.

Doncaster 7f Pace Bias

Over 7f we are seeing a much fairer spread of results, in fact a remarkably even spread!

There is barely 1.5% between the win percentages and less than 3% between the place percentages.

It’s impossible to say any run style is either advantaged or disadvantaged over 7f at Doncaster away from fast ground. The main takeaway here could be to upgrade those that race in mid division or are held up that ran well enough last time out at a pace favouring track as they are likely to improve on that run this time around, assuming other conditions are in their favour.

Doncaster 1m Pace Bias

Over 5f we saw a slightly confusing win percentage and place percentage combination for front runners and it happens again over a mile.

The win percentages would have you believe that front running is the best run style over a mile here whereas the place percentages suggest it is the worst. There are a couple of things to consider with this.

A relatively small sample size means more emphasis should be put on the place data rather than win data, whilst still respecting the win data. On top of that we should also be looking at the trajectory of data for the other run styles.

The win percentages are pretty even for the other three run styles whilst the place percentages are also pretty even, but improve for those held up. Given the best place percentage is for held up and the worst place percentage is for front runners that seems to suggest the further off the pace you are the better. It’s worth noting though that there aren’t great jumps in the figures from one run style to another so just like the 7f distance this looks a pretty fair distance but preference begins to go towards the hold up performers, whereas it was with front runners over 6f and prominent racers over 5f.

Overall, it is no surprise that the shorter distances favour those nearer the pace, that’s a common theme in racing, but those that race nearer the rear still have a fair record over the shorter trips and that record improves dramatically over a little further suggesting Doncaster is a track that favours patience more than many others.

4.20 Doncaster - Virgin Bet Handicap Preview

This 5f handicap is comfortably the most interesting race on the card for me. A turn out of 15 runners is slightly disappointing from an each way perspective but as is often the case these days, most bookies are offering 4 places on this race as standard and a couple are even offering 5 places which gives the each way betting a more appealing feel.

I often start my analysis of a race with the pace map and that looks a good starting point here.

There looks to be at least 4 front runners in this and they are Indian Sounds, El Astronaute, Dakota Gold and Copper Knight. The first three of those are drawn relatively close together in the lower numbers and Copper Knight should give the higher numbers a good tow.

The pace data here over 5f suggests that prominent racers should be marked up but it’s worth remembering that the more patiently ridden runners do go well here too and with a likely contested speed they could end up just as advantaged as those nearer the pace, if not more so.

I’m going to declare early that I think those nearer the head of the betting could dominate this. If picking a bit of ‘each way value’ at double figure prices I’d suggest that Zim Baby (25/1) is overpriced and will enjoy the ground and a thorough test at this trip. He was 3rd in a listed contest here 12 months ago and although he hasn’t got his head in front this term he was beaten just a nose on soft ground at Ripon off a 1lb higher mark earlier this season and he’s run as if in form on his last three starts, all of which came on ground that would have been too fast. The bookies have him beating just one home, he’ll do much better than that.

Other than that I’d expect Sunday Sovereign to run well as he enjoys this sort of ground and did well to get as close as he did last time out at Catterick given he came from off the pace and the other four who finished around him raced closer to the pace. He doesn’t hold too many secrets from the handicapper though and is ‘only’ 9/1.

He was behind Zargun on that occasion, who opposes here. Based on weight for distance Sunday Sovereign should pretty much dead heat with Zargun here but given the pace favouring profile of Catterick compared to Doncaster I’d expect Sunday Sovereign to finish ahead of Zargun this time around.

Another who should finish ahead of Zargun is Illusionist. Illusionist beat Zargun at York a couple of weeks ago by a neck and is also 3lbs better off here thanks to Zargun franking that form since. Again, Zargun also loses out on the fact that he very much got the run of the race at York whereas Illusionist didn’t. So that’s two I have finishing ahead of the relatively short priced Zargun.

On the subject of that Illusionist win at York, it really is a performance worth watching if you have that option and haven’t seen it already. Not only did nothing else come from off the pace in that race, nothing made any inroads off the pace all day at York. His performance, when coming from last to first, really should be marked up significantly.

Then there is the strength of that race. Zargun, the runner up, won next time out whilst the 4th finished a fair 3rd next time. This, in combination with how well he did to come from last to win, suggests a 5lb rise is very lenient. He now runs off 89 and he was beaten a short head last season off this mark by Live In The Moment - that runner has subsequently rated 15lbs higher.

For a horse that so clearly wants softer ground, Illusionist hasn’t run on it that many times which still leaves him unexposed in such conditions. His form figures on good to soft or worse read 5620311. That in itself doesn’t look overly impressive but the 5th came in a listed race at Royal Ascot, the 6th came in a 21 runner handicap at Royal Ascot and the 0 came in last season’s Ayr Silver Cup when he didn’t quite seem ready for 6f. He’s won both runs on softish ground this season and his form figures in fields of 20 or less in softish ground are 2311.

Illusionist is clearly one I am very interested in at around 7/1, as you’ll be able to tell, and another is Boundless Power, who is a slightly shorter price. He was a winner last time out in heavy ground at Ascot and before that found only subsequent Group 3 winner Hurricane Ivor too good in the Portland here. He’s 4lbs higher than that win and 7lbs higher than his Portland run but since being gelded in April he has produced form figures of 12121 over 5f with cut in the ground so he’s clearly a major player here.

He doesn’t really have any recent ‘hot form’ to note like Illusionist does but his 5th at Ascot in July is worth examining.

Pretty much every horse that ran well has since franked the form, even the winner, who hasn’t won again since, has run well enough in group company. Boundless Power bumped into plenty of improvers that day and this came on good ground, not soft ground. He is 6lbs higher this time around but this race is unlikely to be as strong as that Ascot race was and conditions will suit more here too so he’s certainly entitled to go close.

Raasel is the unexposed one in the line up, from the same yard as Boundless Power. With these two runners, Mick Appleby has the first two in the betting so it will be interesting to see which direction they each go in the betting.

A 201 day break seemed to do the trick for Raasel as he’s won three on the bounce since, all relatively comfortably and certainly more comfortable than the winning distances suggest. Those races did lack strength in depth though so whilst it’s impossible to say he doesn’t have more left in the tank, it’s also difficult to prove he’s necessarily ahead of his mark of 81, having gone up a total of 8lbs for his hat trick of wins. He’ll certainly need to be as he’s actually racing off 85 here, 7lbs higher than his last win, due to the fact that he’s 4lbs out of the handicap. It’s easy to understand why connections are taking that chance with the prize money on offer but as a punter I hate backing horses that are out of the handicap , certainly by this much, and I feel the bookies don’t fully account for that with their prices. Had he been raised 7lbs for his last win I think he’d be a bigger price here despite the fact that he’s still running from a 7lb higher mark.

I was already willing to chance Illusionist and Boundless Power against Raasel even off his correct mark. I realise Adam Farragher takes off ‘the handy 5lbs’ as they say but that’s what apprentices do anyway and his lowest riding weight in the past 12 months is 7-10, 4lbs lower than the weight Raasel should carry here so it will be interesting to see if he can shave an extra 1lb off that to use his full claim.

Either way my two against the field are ILLUSIONIST and Boundless Power, with slight preference for the former because he’s had fewer chances in ideal conditions and did extremely well to win a warm race last time out. I’ll probably have a small saver on Boundless Power, who I think is almost certain to be in the first four, and I’ll be very interested in a reverse forecast too given I think this race lacks real strength in depth. I'm generally not one for backing last time out winners but I will do when I still think they offer value.

Others To Note At Doncaster

One runner I am quite interested in for the 2.05pm at Doncaster is Another Batt. This is a wide open handicap but Another Batt ran well last time out when a lot of things weren’t in his favour.

He ran the same day as Illusionist when York was heavily favouring front runner, even more than it often does. He was 6th in a 20 runner mile handicap and he finished a running on 6th, doing best of those held up and doing so from stall 20 which is rarely the place to be over a mile at York.

The mile probably didn’t play to his strengths either, all seven of his wins have come over shorter and he’s even effective at 6f. His most recent win was a comfortable one off a 1lb lower mark and although he’s not the most consistent it looks as though he has been freshened up by a break and is back to form. Everything should be in his favour here so I’m expecting a big run from him at a decent price. He's not necessarily the most likely winner (there are some interesting 3yos) but I'd fancy him as an each way punt.

One runner I am sadly against on Saturday is Aaddeey who runs in the 2.40pm at Doncaster. I say sadly because this is very much a horse on my radar as being well handicapped but he’s been running on the wrong ground nearly all season. He’s well handicapped on several pieces of form, none more so than when beating Rodrigo Diaz by 4.5 lengths. He’s now 12lbs higher because of that but that rival is now rated 22lbs higher!

So why the lack of interest on Saturday? The ground has once again gone against him for a start. Even more reason to oppose him is the record of Simon and Ed Crisford’s runners after a 60+ day break. Aaddeey has seemingly had a slight problem because when the ground suddenly came right for him a couple of months ago he was completely absent from the races you’d expect him to be running in. He’s been off 84 days and although he went well fresh on seasonal debut, Simon and Ed Crisford’s runners have achieved a PRB of just 0.34 with handicap runners in the past 90 days returning from a 60+ day break whereas their total handicap runners in the same period have a PRB of 0.51. Those disappointments include runners at 3/1, 4/1, and 4/1 and the common theme has been that they are weak at the finish.

Reading between the lines, he’s had an issue and the target this season is going to be the November Handicap back here in a couple of weeks’ time. The ground may well go against him there again but this has the look of a prep run and for a horse rated 99, do they really want to win here and carry another 5lbs or 6lbs in the big one? Unlikely. The ideal scenario for me, who desperately wants to be on Aaddeey when he does win, is an okay performance here without winning and then he turns up in the November Handicap after an unseasonal dry and warm spell in the next fortnight. That might be wishful thinking but he won’t be carrying my money here. I’d much rather back Rhythmic Intent in this at the same sort of price in a race that admittedly probably isn’t going to take a great deal of winning.

Anthony Honeyball Stable Tour 2021/22

geegeez.co.uk is delighted to continue its sponsorship of the very talented National Hunt yard of Anthony Honeyball. Operating out of Potwell Farm, set in a beautiful nook on the Dorset / Somerset border, Anthony and Rachael have been gradually improving both the quality and quantity of horses they race; and this term promises much on both scores.

I spoke at length to Anthony yesterday about his team for this season and below are his thoughts and hopes for the campaign ahead.

The comments are presented in a table which may be sorted by any of the column headings, and may be searched from the box to the right just below this sentence.

VIEW ANTHONY'S UPCOMING ENTRIES / RECENT RESULTS HERE >>

HorseYoBSexCodeComments
Acey Milan2014GeldingChaseWon at Aintree on seasonal bow last year and is entered there again on Sunday. Main target is the Rehearsal Chase
Belle De Manech2016MareHdl/ChsHas a good record fresh and goes to the Wincanton mares' handicap hurdle in early November. It's been a good race for the yard and looks ideal for her. She's had a wind op since last season.
Bohemian Lad2018GeldingNHFHe's a hardy type. Will have a racecourse gallop somewhere midwinter and then aim at a bumper in the spring. Be a lovely jumper in time.
Cape Vidal2017GeldingNHFGood size, robust individual who is taking his work well. Should be ready for a bumper in December.
Captain Claude2017GeldingNHFHas progressed well at home, and did a nice racecourse gallop last spring. We just ran out of time to get to the track. Ready to go now and should hopefully take some beating first time up.
Coquelicot2016MareFlat/HdlA very good bumper mare (Listed winner) for geegeez.co.uk, she didn't quite get her jumping together last season. Will start in a 1m6f novice at Nottingham before going hurdling. Has had a wind op since last season.
Credo2015MareHurdleLove her. Unbeaten in three (Irish point, two bumpers) and is from a strong staying family (including Cyclop). Will go mares' maiden/novice hurdling and should win a 2m4f soft ground heat.
Dear Ralphy2016GeldingNHFHalf to The King's Writ, he's progressing nicely. We've not asked him for everything yet and feel he has more to show us. Be ready for a bumper in December.
Deja Vue2014MareChaseVery consistent and classy mare. Could go to Fontwell on 5th November, or Uttoxeter on 13th. Were she to win we'd be looking at something like the Tommy Whittle with her.
Emzara2016MareNHFWas ready to run and then got a little niggle last backend. Ready again now and might go to Aintree Sunday. She ought to be worth the wait and should go well.
Multiplex ex Montelfolene2017FillyNHFComing along steadily. Related to Soll, and should be ready in the spring for a bumper.
Champs Elysees ex Purely By Chance2017FillyNHFRelated to Ucanaver, she was quite backward last term. Has had a good long break and ought to be ready for a bumper in the New Year. Looking forward to her.
Black Sam Bellamy ex Rouquine Sauvage2018GeldingNHFOut of a mare we won three with, he's a big horse who will probably want some wet ground. One for later in the season.
Fanfaron Dino2015GeldingHdl/ChsHe'll go straight over fences this season. Is potentially nicely handicapped but has a bit to prove after a couple of flattish runs last term.
Firestream2017GeldingNHFWe like this lad a lot. He's a very good work horse and showed plenty in a racecourse gallop last backend. We'd be very hopeful he'll go close on debut, may run at Ascot Saturday week.
Fortuna Ligna2017FillyNHFAnother of our bumper squad, she by Soldier of Fortune out of a Bob Back mare, two pedigree parts we love. Had a racecourse gallop last term and will be entered up soon. Goes nicely at home.
Forward Plan2016GeldingNHFAthletic sort who won an Irish point before coming to us. Will be ready in a fortnight or so. Clean winded and has a nice action; looking forward to him in a bumper before switching to hurdles at some point.
Gabriel's Getaway2017GeldingNHFRelated to Burtons Well and Burton Port among others. Showed a fair bit at home and in a racecourse gallop. Can be a bit gawky but loads of ability and we'd like to think he'll go very close 1st time.
Glorious Isolation2016MareHurdleWill head straight over hurdles. She's schooled superbly and, though she might need the experience early, ought to come into her own at some point this season. Will start in 2m maiden hurdles.
Good Look Charm2016MareNHFWon a bumper at the second time of asking last season since when she joined us. Is sister to a Punchestown Land Rover bumper winner. Might start at Aintree on Sunday. Going nicely.
Gustavian2015GeldingChaseHyper consistent (3 wins, 5 seconds and a third from 9 runs) and will graduate to fences this season. Should have a little more still to come. Probably wants soft or heavy to show his best. Has had a wind op.
Hatos2017GeldingNHF/HdlBought him after he was 2nd in an Irish point. He's a very well balanced athletic horse who goes well at home and will have a spin in a bumper before switching to hurdles. Looking forward to him.
Howlingmadmurdock2017GeldingNHFRelated to Time For Rupert and the smart Easy As That among others. Was just about ready in the spring but the ground went against us. Extra time has done him good. Will be out soon.
Jail No Bail2017GeldingNHFA strong galloper who was ready to run in a maiden point before I bought him and put him away for the summer. Going very well and should take some beating in an ordinary bumper.
Jepeck2009GeldingChaseVeterans' Chase Final winner a couple of seasons back, he's probably going hurdling this time around. Seems to retain all his affection for the game. Wants it soft or heavy ideally.
Khalina Star2017FillyNHF/HdlHad a racecourse gallop last season and another we ran out of time with when the ground dried up. Very laid back mare who seems to have more than she shows us! She's ready to go in a bumper for a geegeez.co.uk syndicate.
Kid Commando2014GeldingChaseA good jumper: neat and brave. He might go to Ascot Saturday week for the novices' handicap chase. He was a point winner before coming to us so we expect he'll improve for fences. Has had a wind op since last campaign.
Konigin Isabella2018FillyNHFAnother geegeez.co.uk syndicate filly, she's by an interesting German sire. Is probably our sharpest 3yo and the plan is to head to Warwick on 17th November for a fillies' junior bumper.
Le Coeur Net2012GeldingChaseStable stalwart has won five for us in recent seasons. High enough in the weights perhaps but does handle mud well so every chance he'll add to his tally through the winter.
Lilith2015MareHdl/ChsShe didn't meet our expectations last season and, as a result is potentially very well handicapped now. Will mix hurdling and chasing and should be best on soft or heavy ground.
Marco Island2017GeldingNHFA big strong horse by Mahler, he might find bumpers happening a bit quick (and might not!), but he'll be a lovely horse over a fence in due course.
Midnight Callisto2015MareHurdleDidn't respect her hurdles enough last season as a novice and has a lenient looking mark as a result. She's schooled much better so we're very hopeful she can step forward. May mix fences with hurdling later in the season. Had a wind op.
Miss Hunky Dory2018FillyNHFLovely mover who is from the family of Dubacilla, Desert Queen and Mister Malarky. She'll need a little more time, likely starting in a bumper in the spring. We like her.
Mister Allegro2018GeldingHurdleDidn't pull up any trees in a few runs on the level but jumped brilliantly when winning a juvenile hurdle on debut (2nd won since). He may go to Wincanton this weekend.
Mollie Brown2018FillyNHFFrom the family of Sam Brown. Is doing all we've asked of her so far and one for a back end bumper.
Pour Me Another2017GeldingNHFAnother ready last season but didn't get a run, and for whom the extra time will be no bad thing. Will run in bumpers before too long, probably won't want it too soft.
Precious2016MareNHF/HdlBig mare who won her bumper well before finding it a bit much in Listed company on second start. She'll probably have another crack at a Listed bumper at the Cheltenham Open meeting before going hurdling. She's a lovely mare.
Pure Vision2011GeldingChaseHas run some nice races at Grade A tracks without perhaps hitting the heights we thought he would. Not sure on plans this season, though it's possible he'll go the hunter chase route. Would be an interesting recruit to that sphere.
Regal Encore2008GeldingChaseThe stable flag-bearer for a decade he was just touched off in a handicap, aged 13, from a mark of 150 last season! He'll start Saturday week in the valuable Ascot handicap he won last year.
Rubys Reward2016MareHurdleHas ability and goes hurdling this season. Could win a maiden but may be one for handicaps when she's accumulated some experience.
Sam Brown2012GeldingChaseAnother yard favourite, he demolished a Grade 2 novice chase field last season before losing his way a little. Back in form now and may run in a Haydock graduation chase before a crack at the Welsh National.
Serious Charges2017GeldingNHF/Hdl2nd in an Irish point (winner sold for £175k), 20L clear of remainder. Is the proverbial chaser in the making, though will have one crack at a bumper before going hurdling this season. 2m4f maidens his starting point.
Sojourn2013GeldingChaseConsistent, having won three of nine (placed four more times) so far. Likely heads to Ascot Saturday week and if he goes well we might look at something like the Becher Chase for him.
Starship Mona2018FillyNHFOut of the good bumper mare Lifeboat Mona, this filly will start off down that route in the spring, or possibly next autumn.
Sully d'Oc Aa2014GeldingChaseGave us a brilliant day at Punchestown in May, winning a valuable prize there. Will probably start in either the Haldon Gold Cup (Exeter) or join our Ascot squad a week Saturday. He wouldn't want it too soft.
Swincombe Fleat2016MareHurdleA nice mare, she's well related and ran a blinder to be 4th in a very competitive Listed bumper in the spring. She goes novice hurdling and will be ready mid-November. Probably wants 2m4f.
Ucanaver2016MareHurdleAbsolutely flew home in a bumper last season before slightly disappointing in Listed company twice thereafter. Goes hurdling this term and will start off this afternoon at Worcester. Has schooled very well.
Whynotnowken2017GeldingNHFIs nearly ready fitness-wise but still a bit green and immature. Has actually had plenty of education and will start out soon. Might just take a minute for the penny to drop but he should be interesting when it does.
World Of Dreams2016GeldingNHF/HdlA typically excellent find by Ron Huggins, this well-bred gelding won two bumpers last season, perhaps surprising us a little in the process. Goes maiden/novice hurdling this term over 2m-2m4f. Had a wind op since last seen.

Monday Musings: Champions

An epic Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday definitely settled one major argument and all but decided another, writes Tony Stafford. In all honesty though, Murphy versus Buick and Appleby contra the Gosdens were the sideshows to an overwhelming afternoon for the Shadwell Estate Company, Jim Crowley and William Haggas.

There was a tinge of irony in the fact that in the week after the announcement of an admittedly expected but still shocking major reduction in the number of horses in the blue and white colours of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Shadwell won half the races.

Most – me at the head of that particular queue – expected a John and Thady Gosden benefit. But in the opening stayers’ race, Stradivarius suffered another defeat at the hands not only of Trueshan but 50-1 shot Tashkhan who came through late to give Brian Ellison a scarcely credible second place.

So once again Hollie Doyle was the nemesis for Frankie Dettori. He had accused racing’s favourite and most talented female rider of setting an inadequate pace on a pacemaker when the pair were riding for Aidan O’Brien in the Prix Vermeille on Arc Trials Day.

Dettori was on the unbackable Snowfall that day, previously a triple Oaks winner in the summer, including at Epsom under the Italian, but was turned over by Roger Varian’s Teona. Frankie reckoned Hollie got the pace wrong, but horses are supposed to run on their merits and in the event La Joconde was only a half-length behind the superstar in third. If that smacked of sour grapes, on Saturday it was more a case of sour face.

Riding his favourite horse the now slightly faltering multiple champion stayer Stradivarius, Dettori came back boiling, now blaming young Irish rider Dylan Browne McMonagle for twice blocking his run. My view of the closing stages was that any inconvenience could hardly have been of the order of four lengths – the margin by which he was behind Trueshan. McMonagle, far from bowed by the old-timer’s complaints, quite rightly called it “just race-riding”.

The fastest finisher of the front three was undoubtedly Tashkhan, who started out in 2021 having joined Ellison from Emmet Mullins on a mark of 70. He was already up to 106 by Saturday and no doubt will have earned another hike. For Trueshan and his owners, who include Andrew Gemmell, his exploits entitle him to be the year’s top stayer.

I felt it worth starting out on Grumpy Frankie, who in a magical career of well over 30 years has had more than his fair share of good fortune – and leniency from the authorities - notably that day with the seven winners on the same racecourse. That was the year when I had just finished writing his “autobiography”, a Year in the Life of Frankie Dettori. Come off it Frankie, imagine how many times you’ve got in someone’s way when they thought they had a race in the bag!

But we move back to Shadwell. Two of their three winners on the day were home-breds. These were Baaeed, emphatic winner of the QE II Stakes and Eshaada, another Roger Varian filly to lower the colours of Snowfall, again below par in third in the Fillies’ and Mares’ race. After the brilliance of her trio of summer Group 1 wins at Epsom, The Curragh and York Snowfall may just be feeling the cumulative erosion caused by those efforts – not least her sixth in the Arc just two weeks previously. Varian must be thinking she’s his Patsy!

The third Shadwell winner was like the other two, a progressive three-year-old. William Haggas had not even revealed Baaeed to the racing public until June 7 of his three-year-old career but in the intervening 18 weeks he had won four more times including at Longchamp. Here the son of Sea The Stars was faced with the Gosdens’ Palace Pier, the highest-rated horse in Europe last year.

That status has been usurped by last weekend’s Arc hero Torquator Tasso. Baaeed was a most convincing winner and must have a massive future. Whether it will be that much more glorious than what we will see from Haggas’s other winner in the same colours cannot be certain. Aldaary, by Territories, had won a handicap on the same track two weeks earlier, the 6lb penalty for which brought his mark in Saturday’s closing Balmoral Handicap to 109. No problem as he proved to be the proverbial group horse running in a handicap by galloping away from 19 others under an exultant Crowley in a time only 0.07sec slower than the Group 1.

If there was an element of sadness around Hamdan’s colours winning half the races on that massive day, for me there was just as much poignancy about Aldaary’s success. The breeder is listed as M E Broughton, slightly disguising the identity of a man who equally hid behind the name of the Essex-based company he built, Broughton Thermal Insulation, in his many years as an enthusiastic owner-breeder.

Michael died last year – as did his wife Carol – and that after a career where the Racing Post Statistics reveal more than 100 winners in his sole name. He won races in all but two of the 33 seasons for which the Racing Post carries statistics, and in his final days actually won four to get him past the century.

He was a one-trainer owner, relying on the always-reticent Wille Musson and when the trainer retired five years ago, he stayed on as Broughton’s racing manager. Clever man that Willie Musson.
Michael was a jovial red-faced enthusiast and for a few years he used to ask me to go through the Cheltenham card on the days when he entertained a table of friends. These included his loyal PA, Maggie and Michael’s brother Roger as well as the Mussons, in the main restaurant at the Cheltenham Festival.

All his horses carried the prefix Broughtons (sometimes with an apostrophe before the “s”) and Broughtons Revival won three races of the four she competed in on turf as against a winless five appearances on all-weather, of course for Musson.

Retired to stud she had six foals before Aldaary and five of them are winners. No wonder Aldaary realised 55,000gns as a foal to the bid of Johnny McKeever at the 2018 December sales and then, re-submitted the following year in Book 2 of the October Yearling Sale, jumped up to 150,000gns to Shadwell. More than 150 Shadwell horses are due to go under the hammer at the Horses in Training Sale next week. I doubt that Aldaary, who holds the entry, will be sporting the insignia of Lot 1308 at Park Paddocks, rather enjoying some down time back at Somerville Lodge.
However sad it was that Sheikh Hamdan could not enjoy his day of days, I have much more regret that Michael was unable to enjoy seeing by far the best horse he has ever bred over all those years. Willie and Judy Musson will have been pleased as punch no doubt.

Earlier in the piece I suggested that Snowfall might not have fully recovered from her demanding run in the mud of Longchamp 13 days earlier, but the horse that finished one place ahead of her that afternoon stepped up to win the Champion Stakes thereby unseating Mishriff, the second Gosden ace in the hole.

That top-class globe-trotting winner of more than £10 million had sat out the Arc presumably to save his energies for Ascot, but shockingly, he didn’t last home, fading to fourth as Sealiway and Mickael Barzalona strode forward. Dubai Honour made a great show in second for the Haggas team and Classic winner Mac Swiney was third ahead of Mishriff thereby keeping Jim Bolger well in the action hard on the news that his other star of 2021 Poetic Flare is off to a stud career in Japan.

Sealiway had benefited from the traditional French way of training top-class three-year-olds. He had not run for almost four months before his Arc challenge having been runner-up a length and a half behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix Du Jockey Club.

Trained then by F Rossi, he switched to Cedric Rossi during the layoff and this convincing victory showed him as a high-class performer and one that is sure to be a major force in European and world racing over ten and twelve furlongs for the next year or so.

Elsewhere, Oisin Murphy held on to win a third title, but I understand there might still be some uncomfortable moments for him. He is a wonderful jockey and we have to hope he can overcome his demons. William Buick’s strong challenge will have given this unassuming young man the confidence that a championship is within his grasp especially as the Charlie Appleby stable remains so powerful.

Last week I suggested the Gosdens had more than enough firepower to claw back the half-million or so deficit they had on Godolphin’s main trainer, but in the event they retrieved barely ten per cent of it on Champions Day. Admittedly the season and therefore the title race in name continues until December 31 but big John and son Thady have no realistic chance of breaching the gap.
Creative Force won the sprint for Charlie and William and a touch more than £300k in the second race of the six. With his main rival surprisingly failing to get a winner on the day – especially the QE II and Champion Stakes, worth considerably more than £1.1 million that looked at their mercy - Appleby assuredly will win his first title after a period when John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien have been dominant.

The massive crowd and good weather and not least fair ground made for a wonderful day – on the tenth anniversary of the lavish Qipco sponsorship. A couple of friends managed to secure tickets for the owners’ lunchroom and Kevin and Dave had a wonderful time. The staff seemed overrun at times but the very pleasant greeter at the top of the stairs was a superlative advertisement for the hospitality trade.

The smile never left her face and then later in the afternoon I was quite surprised to see her carrying out a heavy load of rubbish to the bins. On suggesting that might be someone else’s job, she replied: “They are so busy and have been working very hard, it’s only fair!” What a woman!

At the end of the afternoon, when Dave, having enjoyed a fairly long and liquid lunch, mistook a step and fell headlong down half a flight of stairs, again the staff were quick to come to his aid, calling immediately for the medics. Dave, 78, was pronounced okay so we were cleared to go off to an evening at an Essex hostelry to complete a lovely day. And while I was fully aware of my chauffeuring requirements, the boys made a night of it and true to form were up and ready to go early on Sunday morning with Kevin, I know, supervising the action at his shellfish cabin in Billericay.

- TS

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