Latest horseracing news from the UK

Social Discourse: 11th March 2019

Readers, friends, comrades in arms. We are here. There is just one day left before the 2019 Cheltenham Festival begins and, like all across this site, I can’t wait for the best that our sport has to offer.

It is a special edition of Social Discourse as we head into four incredible days, and as such there have been a few tweaks made to this particular edition.

If you’re headed to the home of Kings – and if you’re reading this, then there's a fair chance that you are – please give me a shout. You can do so via the same avenues that others use to complain about me lots - @KeejayOV2 on the Tweet Machine.

A big thanks to the hard work of Matt Bisogno on this and all the previous newsletters.

Let. The. Games. Commence.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the greatest week of the year, but for most of us who take even half an interest, it is four days (or seven) that will have plenty of pitfalls as well as opportunities – no matter how you approach it. But what is the secret to a successful festival, both on and off the track?

I got in touch with the great and good to get some advice – and then gave some of my own anyway….

Do….

  • Watch races from different areas. Get different perspectives rather than just get a drink, or watch a race all in the same places. Go to the parade ring, watch near the second last fence, watch at the top after the winning post - @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Think about how one race relates to another at the Festival. For example, as soon as they cross the line in the Supreme, think about what that race result has told you about the formlines for the Ballymore – and similarly for the Arkle and JLT/RSA. The result might just have unlocked a bit of value. - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Dress weather appropriate! I never go inside at Cheltenham so will be outside the whole time on both days I am there. I am dressing smart but definitely layering up. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Get to the track early in the morning and see the Irish raiders exercising in the middle of the racecourse - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Remember the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez
  • Make it to the middle of the course. I had attended quite a few festivals before a friend took me to the middle of the course for a race. I had no idea you could do it! It is a totally different perspective to the racing though. First of all there is no big screen to watch the action on over there so when they go out to country, you are relying on the commentary to understand what is going on. Jowever there are two selling points to this little trip. The first is that it is a suprisingly different perspective to the course, you can take in the huge crowd in the stands from a relatively peaceful vantage point. The best thing about ding this though is being able to be mere metres from top national hunt horses taking the last fence. The sound of them brushing through the bitch is incredible. - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog

Don’t….

  • Get so p***ed you can’t watch the racing. We’ve waited 361 days for this. @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Be dogmatic about your selections before the festival. For example, you may want to be against Buveur D’Air at 9/4 in the Champion Hurdle (I know I do), but what if he drifts to 7/2? He’s probably a decent bet at those odds. It’s important to remember that betting is literally all about the price, so the advice is not to think in terms of ‘bankers’, and ‘lay of the festivals’ and any other b****cks that you might hear at preview nights and start to think about what price you need to get before you want to be with a horse (the other great thing about The Festival in this regard is that you don’t have to worry about non triers) - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Back every odds on shot. - @UAE_Racing, editor of Racing Reflex
  • Don’t* bet on every race. Wait for extra places on the handicaps. The Irish are going to win all of the County, Coral Cup, Pertemps and Martin Pipe. Be aware of the super-rare moments where 'public money' and bookie multi liabilities actually create wonky markets - exploit them. – @GloriaVictis
  • Never chase out prices and compete with other Bookies around you. There is a lot of money in the ring at Cheltenham, and when it's your turn, at the right time, it'll come to you. Don't rush it or you can end up laying over the odds horses and you feel silly 3 minutes later. - @BenStarSports, owner of Star Sports
  • Be afraid to stick within your comfort zones. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Forget your folding stuff, as the queues for the cash machines might not move quickly. - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Don't forget the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez.
  • Speed drink between races! Gone are the days where I would take on the four day drinking test that the festival can be. I would emerge blinking into day four, confused and disorientated, trying to remember which form lines I was following into the Triumph. At any day at the festival, you have all day and all night to invoke the spirit of Bacchus. There is no rush. Especially if it is raining the bars can be busy, getting the round in can leave you little time between races. I enjoy the festival a lot more taking it easy and pacing the day out - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog 

 

And some additional advice, from yours truly:

Do…

  • Bet before you get on course. Don’t rob yourself of the pleasures of the ring – the layers need your custom – but you will get the best positions and crucially place terms off course most of the time
  • Bet the night before – The best prices are nearly always found the night before, or in the morning
  • Take a portable charger – If you’re going, then you will earn your money back at some point with a powerful charger. £30 should get you a useful one that will last
  • Think outside the box – Only five of the festival’s 28 races have shown a profit for favourites over the last 10 years. There are routinely big priced winners at the Festival, and even more hit the place

 

Don’t….

  • Chase losses. It is the biggest betting week of the year and if things go wrong at some point, the temptation will be immense. Stick to your pace
  • Over-drink during the racing – As someone who loves a pint, yours truly is no stranger to a Guinness at the Festival. However, at no meeting all year will it take you longer to get served, and post 1.30 each trip is going to consume extremely valuable time. The day will fly by and refreshments after the last have always been beautifully thirst-quenching

 

  1. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One race, one nose, two cameras. If it sounds too much like a sitcom, then that’s because it’s true; Welcome to British racing in 2019.

You know the scene by now. One For Rosie, having cruised into the lead of the European Breeders' Fund Matchbook VIP "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (try saying that without taking a breath), jumped to the front at the last. Sam Twiston-Davies punched and kicked for his life, and he just manages to get the better of the strong staying Third Wind, after a tense wait for the photo finish.

Or so we’d thought. Firstly it was all normal. We thought we’d simply seen another close Saturday finish. Punters got paid out and connections were being interviewed. And then we were told there was a delay. And then…

 

Your first 30 days for just £1

That was just a flavour of the reaction. There are too many tweets to post, but

 

 

 

Fool Me Once: Amazingly, this wasn’t even the first time it had happened; this is the second occasion this year the wrong result has been called at Sandown, with the unique sprint course seeing Rio Ronaldo being announced the winner in a 5f handicap before the result was changed with Vibrant Chords handed victory.

 

Then, there was this interview:

 

The Official Response:  

  1. The Imperial Malaya

It’s just easier to ask what Paul Nicholls can’t do, the answer to which is nothing. His Malaya continued the stable’s brilliant form with victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The five-year-old mare looked to have a tough task on when trying to hop the second last and then just stepping through it, buckling in the process, but Harry Cobden kept his cool brilliantly to allow her to regather her momentum and slowly but surely she caught up with Monsieur Lecoq – who had made the best of his way home whilst going strongly from two out - jumping the last brilliantly when needing to and eventually grinding her way to a one and three-quarter-length win.

 

What about the Festival? Paul Nicholls has been open to running her at the Festival in a bid to take a bonus in post-race quotes, telling Maddy Playle of the Racing Post: "She's tough and won't need to do much work, it's definitely a possibility. We're not saving her for anything so we might look at it.”

Be Smart: Looking at the rest of the field: Call Me Lord ran a tremendous race under his huge weight, First Flow ran a fine race on his first run for nearly a year, and Benny’s Bridge will be much happier on a sounder surface.

 

  1. Fun In The Sun

In much sunnier climes, Meydan had their Super Saturday, a leadup to the Carnival ending Dubai World Cup night that takes place in just over three weeks’ time. Highlights included:

  • Capezzano’s arrival at Group 1 level with a wide margin victory in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, trashing the returning Thunder Snow by nine and a half lengths. He will now head to the World Cup, as will the second, who will hope to strip much fitter in a couple of weeks’ time

 

 

  • Dream Castle’s fine turn of foot to beat a heavy gamble on Wootoon in the Jebel Hatta, making it three from three in Dubai since being gelded

 

  • Old Persian managed to catch stablemate Racing History with apparent ease to take the City of Gold, seeing him up for the Sheema Classic and a promising European campaign
  • Muntazah broke the track record in the Burj Nahaar, winning by 10 lengths to make himself the sure fire favourite for the Godolphin Mile

  • Blue Point won the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint with the ease that odds of ¼ suggested, and will be hard beat regardless of the international raiders that might well come his way

  • Divine Image put together a career-best performance to romp away with the Al Bastakiya, making her favourite for the UAE Derby

 

  1. A King’s Pair

Willie Mullins – yes, that’s right, remember him? – had a perfect warmup for the coming week when he had a 1-2-3 in the Leinster National, led by Pairofbrowneyes.

If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar then yes, you’re right – Pairofbrowneyes won this last year, and it was almost a carbon copy of his win in 2018, with an impressive show of staying power down the home straight to eventually end up winning by five lengths.

This matters why? It’s yet another boost for the form of Invitation Only’s Thyestes Chase win, which has barely produced a bad result, including the winner and the third of the Leinster National yesterday, and the Wylies will be very happy with their position ahead of the Gold Cup.

Winning Jockey Paul Townend, to Sportinglife: "He's very likeable. It was like riding a handicapper. He made one mistake at the ditch down the back, but he sorted himself out and you couldn't be any more pleased with him.”

Something to note: The form of La Bague Au Roi got another boost as Kaiser Black, second to her in the Flogas Novices’ Chase, won the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase by an 11 length margin. He could be a big player for the rest of the season in novice terms.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 4th March 2019

Another fascinating week in the racing life, with The Festival (sponsored by cider) getting closer and closer and, as ever it seems, we weren’t light on talking points. That makes Number 5 below particularly special to me – hopefully you like this week’s Discourse.

 

  1. Winx And You’ll Miss It 

Before a stride had been taken in anger, a World Record was broken in racing on Saturday as the amazing Winx made it 31 – yes, really – straight wins with a comfortable success in the Chipping Norton Stakes. That was her 23rd Group or Grade 1 success, an incredible number which is almost as startling as the 31 race winning streak.

At one point she seemed in the slightest of trouble, as Happy Clapper and Blake Shinn had a commanding lead coming into a short home straight, and even with 300 meters left to go her fans would have been right to start biting their nails. 

I’ve heard this before, haven’t I: Yes, you have, because she’s won pretty much all of her last 31 races like that, including four Cox Plates and 19 other Group 1's. Whilst it has always been enjoyable to watch, especially for her legion of fans, it has not been everybody’s cup of tea. 

For much of the past two years, a fierce debate has raged about the true ability of the Champion Mare, mainly conducted across Twitter between fans, punters and handicappers from both sides of the equator.

Winx’s easy defeat of the solid Benbatl, the best Northern raider sent to face her since Highland Reel, went a long way to answering those questions. However, with a dearth of realistic opposition in Australia, there are still a large number of people who have fallen out of love with the eight-year-old Australian treasure.

See an example of the case for:

And an example of the case against:

Happy Clapper himself sets a better standard than most of Winx’s domestic opposition by one sharp tweeter, and the discussion shall rage on.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Many observers hope to see her travel one day, but she is eight now and the only realistic challenge will come from another Benbatl type heading Down Under. 

The Bottom Line: We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a Champion, fit for three years at the peak of her game – but the debate about what she's beaten and therefore her level of ability will almost never end.

 

  1. Good Things Come To Those Who Wait 

One of the quirkiest parts of racing is the wonderful spectrum of names our equine heroes have, and on some occasions they really do fit perfectly.

Waiting Patiently is one of such horse and Ruth Jefferson’s eight-year-old will keep us all waiting a little bit longer as he’s set to miss the Festival, with a number of options in the near future.

Aintree and Punchestown are both on the table, the Melling Chase presumably a likely target, and a trip to France for Auteuil’s Prix La Barka or French Champion Hurdle were both mooted, given the likelihood that he’d get his favoured ground there.

Owner Paul Colling, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Ascot was Cyrname's ground and if you look at the three behind, we all need cut in the ground. I walked from the second-last with Ruth [Jefferson] and wasn't for running him, but Brian [Hughes] said it was soft enough.

Thinking ahead: This is unrelated, but there’s plenty of rain in the air after a very dry winter, and the Festival could well take place on a softer surface than the winter’s racing, just like last year. Consider that when approaching the races at this late stage.

 

  1. Money Moneyyy (Part 2)

What a difference a week and a boycott (or two) make. Last week’s edition covered the standoff between ARC and trainers who were rightly unhappy at prizemoney levels, especially with further cuts announced – blamed on the Government’s call to cut the maximum stake on FOBT’s to £2 from £100.

A temporary move to reallocate funds in lower-grade races backfired – another race at Sedgefield was a walkover and then there was a call from Ralph 'Red Raif' Beckett for further action this week. 

This isn’t close to over: ARC, in response to the first boycott, have unlocked funding from the levy war chest for the next couple of weeks but there’s only a month until the FOBT funding cut, and a lot of ground to cover to say the least. I mean, just read these quotes: 

Arc Spokesman, speaking on Saturday: "Last night’s agreement with the NTF was made in good faith, with the aim of allowing further time to continue discussions between all parties concerned.” 

Oliver Sherwood, speaking to At The Races on Saturday: “The money at the top end is A1, it’s the bottom end [that is the problem]. And there are more average horses than good horses.”

Gary Moore, who withdrew five Fontwell entries: "I'm supporting the boycott – cutting off my nose to spite my face – and hoping some good will come of it.”

 

  1. On The Track…
  • Paul Nicholls continued his domination of Newbury’s Greatwood Gold Cup with San Benedeto giving Ditchdeat their ninth win of the race – in just 15 years. Nicholls ran three and they were all in the mix until late in the race, but San Benedeto found more than Gala Ball, making his first appearance for Phillip Hobbs, whilst Valdez was third.
  • However, Nicholls did not have it all his own way, with two odds on reverses north of the Border at Kelso. Black Corton was outpointed by the giant Blue Flight in the Premier Chase and then even more surprising was the case of Getaway Trump, moved here after many had predicted he'd head towards the Festival, as Rouge Vif dominated the Premier Kelso Novices’ Hurdle.
  • Noel Meade was the star of a very snowy Leopardstown as wins for The Red Menace, Aint Dunne Yet and Sixshooter capped a weekend in which the team at Tu Va Stables had a perfect four from four. On the same card, Gordon Elliott bagged a double.

 

  1. Chasing Those Spuds

We have already commemorated the healthy retirement of one staying chaser on these pages and I have no shame about putting Chase The Spud in that category.

The 11-year-old had made himself one of most loved horses at a yard with plenty of such types, winning five races including the Midlands National, and over £100,000 in prize money in just over a year. Happy Retirement, Spud!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Social Discourse – 25th February

Another very busy weekend with Cheltenham clues aplenty, even this close to the big March fiesta. We witnessed some superb training performances, superb riding performances, and a boycott that led to a walkover. Thankfully we did not witness any more fights. As always, feel free to get in touch via the comments, or you can 'hashtag' me at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter. To the stories...

 

  1. Angels’ Out Of Breath

He’s still heading to the Supreme despite being outpointed at 8/11 in Saturday’s Dovecote Hurdle by Paul Nicholls’ – remember him? – Southfield Stone.

Nicholls' 6/1 shot, who was overturned at 4/6 when last seen, was always prominent and, under the urging of Harry Cobden, kicked for home off the bend into the straight, which proved to be a race winning move. Southfield Stone ran down the last and drifted markedly to the right thereafter, but still had enough to hold off the late charge of the odds-on favourite. The winner was cut for the Imperial Cup, nominated as his next target by Paul Nicholls, whilst Angel’s Breath was pushed out to as big as 12/1 for the Supreme.

Cheltenham questions abounded in the aftermath of the defeat as many punters cast a doubt on his Supreme aspirations, which had been perceived as very strong beforehand, as seen here. Opinion was split on his chances afterwards.

The Case For: 

 

And Against:

 

 

Be Smart: Defeat was disappointing for many at the time, but this was Angel’s Breath’s second run over hurdles, first run with more than four flights jumped, and first run for 64 days, including a flu jab that has come later than trainer Nicky Henderson expected to thanks to the equine flu hiatus.

Horses For Courses: Kempton was also a complete change of course for Angel’s Breath, who had done much of his best work up the home straight at Ascot on soft ground, and Cheltenham really ought to show his strength and stamina to best effect. 

Paul Nicholls, winning trainer, speaking to Kitty Trice of the Racing Post: "It'll be interesting because I know where Southfield Stone is and I know where Grand Sancy is after last week. I probably wouldn't entertain Southfield Stone in the Supreme, but he could be one for a handicap. He's in the Imperial Cup and might be one to leave for Cheltenham and go for a race at Aintree."

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Angel’s Breath, speaking to the Racing Post yesterday: “We’re pretty sure we’re staying at two miles for the Supreme, and a stiffer track will suit him much better, as would a little cut in the ground. He still ran very well in what was a very good time and we were all very happy with him."

 

  1. A Winning Raffle Ticket?

Henderson had better luck with Fusil Raffles on Saturday, as the French import sprinted clear for a nine-length win on his British debut in the Adonis Hurdle, impressing all-comers:

The Seven Barrows trainer had been relishing the chance to unleash another major festival contender, but in the process of his demolition, Fusil Raffles suffered a cut as he hit the second last. It is sufficiently severe to cast a doubt over his preparations for the Festival, as Richie Persad of ITV told viewers:

 

Henderson told Racing TV: “Unfortunately, he has got a very nasty gash right on his hind-bone shin which is being stitched. We’ve got less than three weeks to go (until the Festival) so it’s going to be tight. We will keep everybody posted. If we can get him there we will, as he deserves to, but if not he will have to wait until Aintree.”

 

  1. The Rath O’Vinden

Another huge target which is fast approaching is the Grand National, and Rathvinden staked his claim with impressive victory in the Bobbyjo Chase, a key prep which sets him on target for Aintree.

After the departure of Magic Of Light eight fences out, the race developed into a duel between Rathvinden and the long-time leader, Alpha Des Obeaux, with last year's National Hunt Chase winner prevailing by three and a half lengths under a resolute Paul Townend.

That was the second serious National trial in a week, after the amazing Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle last Sunday, and Willie Mullins confirmed that Aintree was the plan afterwards.

"That was a nice first run of the season, and I'd imagine he'll go for the National. That would be the usual route from here. We're keen to go and the owner is keen to go."

Your first 30 days for just £1

 

  1. Persistence Pays Off For Walter

Racing is sometimes, only sometimes, a game of just reward. Phil Simmonds could not have been blamed for turning away from the sport after losing Burns Cross to a terrible accident from a foot injury. 

But trainer Neil Mulholland kept him in the sport, and on Saturday he was rewarded for his persistence in the most wonderful fashion as Walt, given a power-packed ride by Sam Twiston-Davies took the valuable 888Sport Handicap Chase.

In what was a tremendous finish, he repelled the game top weight Double Shuffle, in receipt of 20lbs, to spring a minor surprise at 14/1. The winner might now head to Cheltenham for the Ultima Handicap Chase, whilst many eyes will be on the fast finishing third, Adrien Du Pont, who made up the most ground of any horse in the race by far.

 

Phil Simmonds, owner of Walt, speaking to At The Races: “From an owner’s point of view we need to support the Neil Mulhollands of this world. These guys are first class. It has shown today that if these guys have got the talent (to work with), they can do it.”

Bonus: Enjoy this superb shot of Walt jumping the last, taken by the brilliant Francesca Altoft.

 

  1. A Wissahickon For All Weathers

Meanwhile, at Leafy Lingfield, Wissahickon continued his run as one of most progressive horses in training with another dominant performance in the Winter Derby at Lingfield.

John Gosden’s four-year old tracked his stablemate Court House for most of the way, and after being given his orders by Frankie Dettori, he quickly sealed the deal to win by three and a half lengths, making it five wins on the bounce, four of them on the all-weather.

He won as odds of 1/4 suggested he ought to, and there are now much bigger targets on the agenda for him, including a potential trip to Dubai for World Cup night – although he looks set to have at least one more run here with owner George Strawbridge very keen to come and see him once again.

John Gosden: “There is some talk about World Cup Night out in Dubai, but I will have to speak to Frankie, who always has a very strong opinion! We might look at the Sheema Classic, if there was an invitation to run in the race. I think he is a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half horse – his mother stayed and he switches off in his races now, while quick, summer ground would be his game.”

 

  1. Money-Money-Money, Monneehhh

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems, Puff Daddy lamented in the 90’s, that golden age of rap. How the trainers and owners who keep racing afloat would wish to have even a sliver of the wealth floating around in the hip-hop game.

But British racing has pretty much always had a prize money problem. A huge fixture list, one which has bizarrely grown in recent years, stretches a pot of prize money that is under pressure at the levels where it counts – below the weekend racing and big festivals, at the general weekday level which is sustained by a huge bulk of class 4, 5 and 6 racing.

The Government’s long overdue crackdown on FOBT machines has led to a decision in turn by ARC, which owns 16 UK racecourses including Lingfield, to reduce prize money and thus not avail of a top-up fund provided to courses which offer prize funds at or beyond a threshold. That was the backdrop against which a protest against the unacceptably low prize money was staged at Lingfield on Saturday.

 

Costs are already stretched wafer thin: See this explanation from Mike Spence, a long time supporter of the game who has horses of all abilities:

Trainers made their mark with a protest against two races on Saturday with no runners declared for the five-furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine, while only the Nick Littmoden-trained Greybychoice was declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.

And they had the desired effect too, with the story making the BBC news, the papers – including The Mail, which has the largest online circulation of any British title – and international titles like BloodHorse and Australia’s SBS.

Never one to mince his words, Mark Johnston got stuck in: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500. It gets to a point where it’s just not viable to take a horse all the way to Lingfield for that sort of money. We’ve done it in the past, but we’re not going back to the bad old days.

“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order. The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries."

Good Gesture: Nick Littmoden, the only trainer who entered a horse in the two races, donated his percentage to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

What can be done? The big players – the British Horseracing Authority, National Trainers Federation, Racehorse Owners Association and Racecourse Association – are in talks but this problem will always persist unless there is a significant cash injection or, even more unlikely, a marked reduction in the bloated fixture list that consumes British racing for the benefit of bookmakers and media rights recipients. It is worth noting that Ireland does not have anything like this problem, even if the situation is not quite the same.

 

  1. Super Vision

Wind surgery and a step back up in trip proved the answer for Vision Des Flos, who turned out to be the quickest in what was a competitive National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, and after a year and nine races, he finally got back on the winning trail.

 

 

The Kingwell Hurdle third had also finished second behind Buveur D’Air on his first start of the season, but he appeared to appreciate this trip and was always travelling best coming off the all-weather crossover. A big leap took him past the front running Lil Rockerfeller, and once Tom Scudamore sent him to win his race, he always had a little too much in hand for the late charge of If The Cap Fits, who was outpaced almost until he jumped the last.

Harry Fry’s runner up will head to the Aintree Hurdle next, whilst Ballymoy was a disappointment, finishing near last. The ever so admirable Lil Rockerfeller held on for third.

Colin Tizzard, trainer of Vision Des Flos: "He is in the Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup, and on that running I’d say he would go for the handicap. You never know, if there are not many in the Champion Hurdle we might go there yet.” 

Harry Fry, trainer of If The Cap Fits: “He wasn’t good enough today and Noel did well to finish second the way he was travelling. We vaccinated him last week, which was not the plan in such close proximity to a race. Hopefully, the run was just down to that. If he had travelled well he would have won.”

Think Ahead: This was yet another boost for Elixir De Nutz, who had beaten Kingwell Hurdle winner Grand Sancy at Sandown. You can back both these proven horses, who had their form boosted twice over this weekend and who appear to be relatively versatile regarding ground for the Supreme at double figure prices.

 

Also at Fontwell: Hugos Other Horse, half-brother to the one and only Cue Card, ground out victory in the closing bumper.

 

 

  1. Check Mate 

In Ireland yesterday, there was a very smart card at Naas, with the feature Onside App Novice Hurdle (my Paddy Power cheque is in the post!) ending with a thriller eventually claimed by Chosen Mate.

The Gordon Elliott-trained progressive six-year-old travelled best into what turned out to be a sprint after the early fall of Jetez, who was in front at the time. A slick jump at the last sealed the deal for him in the dash for the line, which came just in time as he held off the charging four-year-old Hannon, in receipt of a stone in weight for age.

The runner up was cut to 25/1 for the Triumph with Paddy Power from an original price of 40/1.

Gordon Elliott, winning trainer: “Davy had to change tactics when Puppy (Robbie Power, aboard Jetez) fell. He wanted to get up and take Paul (Townend) on and not give him a complete freebie. The plan is to keep him for Aintree.”

 

  1. On The Ferry

On the same card, Cadmium booked his ticket to the Grand Annual, knuckling down to get the better of the consistent Doctor Phoenix in the Grade 3 What Odds Paddy? Chase.

He was three lengths to the good at the line but had to work harder than that, although he heads to the penultimate race of the Festival with as good a chance as any, especially with a bigger field likely to suit.

Rachael Blackmore was in the winning groove again, driving home Poker Party to take the Grade B Novice Handicap Chase. That’s two wins from two for the pair now, with the previously out of form seven year old seemingly thriving. And see this feature about her, below.

  1. Star Of The Week

A tough one, but perhaps Nick Littlemoden for doing the right thing by his owner and the trainers' collective.

 

11. Bad news to start the week...

And we start this week with the sad news that Le Richebourg, favourite for the Arkle, will miss the race - and the rest of the season - due to an injury during work on Saturday.

- William Kedjanyi

 

 

Social Discourse – 18th February

What a weekend that was! 11 graded races, eight winners for Paul Nicholls, three for Rachael Blackmore, and a 17 length winning margin in one of the season’s top races – and that’s about the short of what was a truly remarkable weekend, recapped – as best as is possible, by me, William Kedjanyi.

But first things first, just look at the brilliant reactions of Sam Twiston-Davies yesterday, perhaps saving the life of Daydream Aulmes at Ascot on Saturday. Show it to people who say that anyone involved in this game doesn't care.

 

 

As always, hit the comments, or come bother me at Twitter – the handle’s @KeejayOV2.

 

1. What’s In A Cyrname?  

You’ve probably seen it, but if not, just watch the end of this magnificent performance and marvel that a horse can run that quickly and jump that smoothly.

 

Cyrname’s rout in the Ascot Chase is still barely believable even after the dust has settled, but one had better believe that it happened because Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old really did smash Waiting Patiently by 17 lengths.

He arrived here after winning a competitive Ascot handicap by 21 lengths last month, but this was a far tougher test. He faced Waiting Patiently. He faced Fox Norton. His stablemate Politologue was a Melling Chase winner. Even Charbel, the outsider of the field, was a winner of the Peterborough Chase this season.

It simply did not matter. From the very start, Harry Cobden was in front and whilst he was always travelling sweetly, it was in the home straight when the taps were opened, Cobden sat motionless in the drivers’ seat for the most impressive performance of the season in my book.

 

 

Thinking Ahead: You would forgive connections for being speechless, but Paul Nicholls had plenty of thoughts on the future: “Aintree last year, he jumped out right, and those type of tracks don’t suit him. At least we will see if he gets three miles round Punchestown. It will be brilliant for him, because it is a big galloping track with proper fences. One day, we will go back left-handed.”

Waiting Patiently was a 17 length second, and Ruth Jefferson gave credit in defeat: “He has been beaten by a better horse on the day,” she said. "My instant reaction is he is probably a better horse on soft ground. That’s the quickest conditions he has run on since Kempton.”

Fox Norton, having his second run since coming back from injury, was third ahead of the slightly disappointing Politologue, who could have his wind operated on according to John Hales.

 

2. Dance, Dance, Dance!

Good things come to those who wait. Nobody would have been dancing last week, not least Dai Walters, but he had the last laugh as Al Dancer almost moonwalked to impressive victory in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle.

 

 

12lbs higher than he was for his win at Cheltenham in December, he could have carried double the weight and still won, and gave Sam Twiston-Davies a dream conveyance down the inside. Indeed, he would have preferred a faster pace but, come the straight, he was cruising into the race and after a good leap at the last he simply had too much for Magic Dancer and Blu Cavalier.

For those interested, main market rival Getaway Trump was back in fourth having made a fair amount of ground in the home straight – an eye catching display given he was second in the Challow Hurdle.

 

The effusive – is he ever anything less? – Nigel Twiston Davies, speaking to Matt Chapman on ITV: "He's a lovely horse, what a shame we weren't at Newbury but well done Ascot for putting it on. He's a championship horse, he'll be going to Cheltenham."

 

Don’t Forget: Getaway Trump is entered in the Ballymore still, but might the Coral Cup be a tempting option?

The Reaction: There’s nothing quite like a big race favourite and Cheltenham contender winning…..

 

3. The Winning Clan

Your first 30 days for just £1

Paul Nicholls’ red letter day had some incredible moments, but one of the most satisfying must have been the 13 seconds it took Clan Des Obeaux to seal the rescheduled Denman Chase and set himself up for a big crack for the Gold Cup.

In what was a very uncomplicated four-runner affair, he tracked Terrefort into the race before the last, and with one big leap – his best of the day – he put what was essentially a match race, the pair being well clear of Ballyhill and Thomas Patrick by the home straight, to bed with aplomb.

 

Harry Cobden Jockey, speaking to the Racing Post: "He's got better all the time, he's maturing and he's more professional when he races. He's not as exuberant as he was, but if you light him up he takes off."

One To Note: Ballyhill, who was third, could go well in handicaps around 2m4f in the spring.

 

4. Over and Out 

This winter we have been reminded about just how valuable our champions are, and how blessed we are when we get to see them go out happy and healthy, so a hearty farewell – of the good kind – to Coneygree, who jumped with enthusiasm and style at Ascot in the Keltbray Swinley Chase, but who did not have the legs to keep up with faster opposition.

He was wisely retired by The Bradstocks after that, a move which brought about an outpouring of love from all in the jumping game. Enjoy.

 

 

https://twitter.com/rockonxruby/status/1096778764170813440

 

5. Meanwhile, at Haydock…. 

Robinsfirth swooped upon Ramses De Teillee to take the Grand National Trial at Haydock with a finely timed challenge from Sean Bowen, on a day where some idiots got involved in a punchup after the racing. Chef D’Oeuvre was third and Colin Tizzard also had the fourth in the shape of Royal Vacation who could be headed to Aintree

Shades of Midnight gave Paisley Park backers yet another form boost as he romped home in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Kilcooley ran a fine race returning from 1066 days off, although he was passed for second by Petticoat Tails. Yanworth, well backed on his seasonal debut, was a bitter disappointment and the stewards – even more perplexingly to this scribe – reported that nothing was amiss.

Quel Destin gave Paul Nicholls another Cheltenham contender with a wide margin win in the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, winning by six lengths whilst Torpillo disappointed here

Jester Jet ended a run of seconds – five of them – with a rallying win in the Listed Mares' Hurdle at Haydock to defy If You Say Run, benefiting from a perfectly timed Tom Scudamore ride to get up by a head.

 

  6. May The Forsa Be With You

The weekend’s action was properly kicked off by the rescheduled Kingmaker Chase, which was turned into a procession by Glen Forsa, who took apart the very disappointing Kalashnikov by 19 lengths in a display that will now see Mick Channon’s charge head towards either the Arkle or the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival, rather than the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

 

 

Glen Forsa, who had impressed with his bold jumping over the Christmas period at Kempton, was jumping better early on and made his advantage count when over the first of the Railway fences, as the odds on favourite was beginning to labour, perhaps struggling in the very tacky ground, with poor leaps at the second and third Railway obstacles getting in the way, and by the time the pair had reached the pond fence the race was basically over.

 

From Amy Murphy and Team:

 

7. Glee for Monalee...

We had no Presenting Percy, but we did have a big winner for Rachael Blackmore as she kicked Monalee home in the Red Mills Chase, a result that will probably make many of Percy’s backers pretty happy – the RSA form holds up better by the week. The four runner affair proved to be a fascinating race, with Monalee always happy in front but Killultagh Vic stopping quite quickly when we had the potential for a three-runner race as they turned for home.

Monalee found enough in front but just as eye-catching in second was the returning Anibale Fly, third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and set to head there again following a fine effort given that he’d had only one run this season – his sixth in a handicap chase back in November. Tony Martin will be a happy man, whilst Edwulf looks difficult to place now although he will be better when stepped up dramatically in trip.

 

Henry De Bromhead, speaking to the Irish Times: “He’s in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and we’ll work it all out between now and then. I wouldn’t be leaning any way to be honest. I don’t know yet and I’d say the ground will be quite telling.

8. Elsewhere..... 

Grand Sancy got the better of Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos in a tremendous battle for the Kingwell Hurdle, giving Paul Nicholls another of his eight winners on the day, and providing Harry Skelton with a first win for Ditcheat in six years. He considerably boosted the Tolworth form of Elixir De Nutz and gave a shot in the arm for the novice form this season as he now heads to the Supreme, with the runner up going for the Champion Hurdle.

Darasso bounced back from a poor run in the Galmoy Hurdle to dominate the Red Mills Hurdle, getting the better of a brief tussle with Forge Meadow to then win by 11 lengths, in a race where last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas was a huge disappointment.

Mister Malarky took his record to three from four over fences with a game win in the Reynoldstown, fighting off Now McGinty. He was cut to 20/1 from 33s by Sky Bet for the Festival’s RSA Chase.

The incredible Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle, sparking a joyous reaction from fans as he belied odds of 25/1. He was cut into 5/4 for the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and is now as short as 12/1 for the Grand National again. A shout out to Keith Donoghue, who rode him and had his first winner since he suffered a fractured eye socket and cheekbone after Christmas.

Rachael Blackmore gave Chris’s Dream a superb ride to land the Ten Up Novice Chase, only just holding on from Champagne Classic, on his second run off a long layoff to get very close.

 

9. What else you might have missed….

The last at Gowran, thanks to (or no thanks to) Racing TV. See the tweets below….

 

 

 

What happened? Daylight Katie won by eight lengths, giving Gordon Elliot yet another useful young horse.

How does this get fixed? The easy answer is for another channel, but things aren't that simple; the running costs alone to have two channels would presumably make such a project financially unviable.

So what then? Racing TV does have multiple channels online, although this is perhaps not all that comforting to Irish fans, many of whom have at best, faint internet access. Irish racing has the benefit of a slimmed fixture list which absolutely makes the product more valuable, but this comes at the cost of clashes such as this, especially on busy days.

On the bright side: The Punchestown Festival is run as an afternoon-evening card, so that should get pride of place come the end of April.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 12th February

Welcome to a joyous, joyous edition of Social Discourse, as British racing makes its return from a six-day break caused by an outbreak of equine influenza (EI), which had put the sport into shutdown and caused concern over the Cheltenham Festival, due to commence a month today (allow yourself another little cheer).

Thanks to what one must say was quick and decisive action from the BHA, we are now set to return from tomorrow, albeit with caveats, giving (most) trainers a resumption of normality along with jockeys, owners, media outlets and the rest. There’s still time for Festival trials, too. Whoop!

As ever, hit me up at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter or just leave a comment below.

 

  1. The Wait……

1:57 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

9:12 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

10:23 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

11:19 PM · Feb 11, 2019: (Yes, that's right, the Irish Field got there first).

11:21 PM · Feb 11, 2019:


  2. The Joy…..

After what was nearly a ten-hour wait – although the last hour and a half was perhaps more stressful than the previous nine - it’s fair to say that this had brought the normally fractious social community of Racing Twitter together. A recap for you, if you couldn’t stay up, or just need that good feeling again.

 

3. The Super, Super Saturday Ahead 

We waited, and now good things are coming to us. Everyone within 10 miles of Cheltenham will still be breathing outwards with relief, but in the more immediate future, there are races to be won and more than a few Festival trials to be rescheduled.

Ascot’s card this coming Saturday was always going to be spectacular but, with the quick transfer of Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle and Game Spirit Chase to the Berkshire venue, it means we are set for a truly phenomenal day of action – the last chance for many high-class horses to run before Cheltenham.

 

Your first 30 days for just £1

2-mile novice chasers get a last chance to tune themselves up for a very open-looking Arkle Chase with the Kingmaker moved from Warwick to boost Sandown’s Friday card; there’s a Mares’ Hurdle which now moves to Haydock from the same card, and Wincanton gets a Mares’ Chase from Exeter.

 

Don’t Forget: If Ascot is getting you excited, then Haydock also has a feature – the William Hill Grand National Trial, plus a Mares’ Hurdle – and Wincanton features the Kingwell Hurdle as well as the Mares' Chase. Best cancel those Saturday plans if you can.

Trigger-Happy Punters: Markets will have to be remade, with the BHA having to work out which yards can send runners, and the entries will come through at 1.30 today. So if anyone wants to get a jump…. Then have a sneaky tab open around 4 this afternoon.

 

4. The Caveats

It’s not as simple as some might think, however.

- No entries or declarations will be accepted from horses that have not been vaccinated in the previous six months.

- Added to this, trainers of all horses are required to submit a health declaration, the documentation for which needs to be with BHA staff at racecourse before a horse can be unloaded at the track

- If there happen to be any overseas runners, then they won’t be allowed to run unless there’s evidence of a negative test within last 72 hours.

- The ruling that all horses need to have been vaccinated in the last six months has put a spanner in the works of many plans. Already we know that Silver Streak will not be able to run in the Kingwell, whilst 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur won’t be able to run thanks to needing another jab.

A list of yards that won’t be able to run at least in the next week has been speculated on twitter, and it could include Nicky Henderson, based on what we’ve seen here.

https://twitter.com/muffinmannhc/status/1095255812413497344

Those berating the BHA for not advising trainers of the need to get their horses a booster jab are wide of the mark, as this tweet shows:

As with all that has preceded it, the BHA is doing everything it can to support the sport, including announcing the provision of some additional races for circa 23rd February to enable those without booster jabs to get vaccinated and have a prep before the Festival:

5. Getting Jiggy With It

Meanwhile, racing in Ireland continued unabated and we were treated to a pair of good cards over the weekend with Punchestown having their Grand National Trial on what was at the very least an informative day.

Gigginstown can do no wrong at the moment and they gave themselves a tremendous hand in both the Aintree and Fairyhouse versions as Dounikos came right back to his best to beat Wishmoor by four and a half lengths, with General Principle just a half-length behind.

In what was a dominant showing for the O'Leary squad from start to finish – all three of their charges raced prominently – Dounikos put himself down as a major contender for either the Grand National itself at Aintree or the Irish equivalent, targets that Wishmoor and General Principle, the winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, will also be looking at.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Dounikos, speaking to Tony O’Hehir of the Racing Post: "Dounikos might go to Aintree or Fairyhouse, we'll see the Aintree weights this week," he said. "I made a lot of entries and I could end up running 12 or 15 in the race. One of those could be General Principle, and Elliott added: "He ran a good race today and Aintree might be the job for him this year."

 

Be smart: Dounikos is generally a 33/1 shot for Aintree (as big as 40/1 with Bet Victor) with the weights due out tomorrow, and General Principle is around the same price.

 

6. Over The Water

A good card at Naas saved ITV, who combined quickly and effectively with the HRI to show a decent card in absentia of Newbury’s Super Saturday.

The highlight was arguably Pravalaguna, who gave a fine front-running display to take the Listed Opera Hat Chase.

Sent off at just 8/13 after strong support, the only scare came when jockey Paul Townend appeared to lose an iron briefly at the fifth last, but he regained full control before taking the next obstacle and from then on she didn’t put a foot wrong before marching to a 14 length success from Baie Des Iles in second.

On the same card, we saw another Festival contender in the shape of City Island, who justified long odds on favouritism with a facile win in the Connolly's Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas.

Mark Walsh could have written this column whilst he was sat onboard Martin Brassil's six-year-old, and when he gave him his cue, he picked up trailblazing The Echo Boy and won by an easy seven lengths. Cut to as short as 9/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, he now goes as one of the main players.

Death, taxes, and Joseph O’Brien having smart juvenile hurdlers are the three certainties in life just now, and Band Of Outlaws joined a growing club by coming from last to first to take the EMS Copiers Rated Novice Hurdle.

In a slowly run race, JJ Slevin had Band Of Outlaws fifth of six most of the way round but when push came to shove, he comfortably had too much speed for long-time leader Maze Runner after the final flight to win going away by four and three-quarter lengths.

The Festival now? Well do be careful – the runner up was only seventh in Leopardstown’s Grade 2 at Christmas and O’Brien, if anywhere at Cheltenham, may send him for the Fred Winter although that is not certain at this stage.

 

Even when O’Brien loses, he wins: The new JP McManus purchase Konitho was a disappointing fifth of sixth, not finding anything like the response of his stablemate, although O’Brien felt that the slowly run race did not suit him. "You'd have to say he was a little bit disappointing. The race probably didn't suit him as he's bigger, more of a staying type of horse.”

Jessica Harrington could have a runner in the Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the shape of the wide margin maiden hurdle winner, Emily Moon. Robbie Power, having his only ride of the day, took the race by the scruff of the neck and she never saw another horse, eventually finishing 14 lengths clear of Debuchet.

Winning rider Robbie Power was impressed: "I was very impressed with her. She's improved a good bit and probably dropping back half a mile in trip suited her better as she loves jumping out and rolling. Over two miles you can let her go, you're not worried about the trip."

Onto next week we go - should be a quiet one..!

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 5th February

A weekend with so much action that even this bumper edition struggling to fit it all in, writes William Kedjanyi. We like a challenge here, however, so here goes with a round up of all the latest movers and shakers on the bumpy highway to the Cotswolds next month…

 

  1. How’d you like them Apple's?

She’s going: The brilliant Apple’s Jade, a wide margin winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, is now more likely to head to the Festival’s first-day showpiece than not. In the aftermath of her brilliant performance at Leopardstown, where she stole the headlines on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival, Eddie O’Leary, speaking on behalf of owner Michael, had suggested that she would still go the Mares' Hurdle route in lieu of a tilt at the bigger race.

"We'll go to the Champion Hurdle if you can run a gelding in the Mares'. Did she win the Mares' Hurdle last year? No." – Eddie O’Leary, speaking to Nick Luck on Racing TV in the aftermath of Apple’s Jade’s stunning win.

But overnight, trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Michael O’Leary appeared to have a change of heart.

 

Gordon Elliott, trainer, speaking to Luck On Sunday:  "Buveur D'Air is obviously a very good horse and just does what he has to do every day, but we’ll take him on. Nothing is concrete, but I'd say it's likely."

Michael O’Leary, owner: "If you are going to lose, I’d rather lose trying to win a Champion Hurdle than a Mares’ Hurdle, now that we know she can run a fast two miles."

Looking ahead: If she stays sound, then a delicious clash between Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air will be the highlight of the first day at Cheltenham.

Best of the rest: Supasundae ran well once again to be second, although his connections are between a rock and a hard place regarding Festival targets: he would be unlikely to reverse form with Apple’s Jade but the emergence of Paisley Park in the staying division makes life difficult there also.

 

  1. Anything you can do….

Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air responded in kind with victory in a hack canter in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, having to make some of his own running before easing clear of Vision Des Flos and winning the race for a third time.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has been following the same route as last season, albeit with a defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and aside from that sprint to the line where Verdana Blue beat him, he’s looked as dominant as ever. Slicker through the latter stages of the race this time than at the Sunbury venue last, he briefly looked under pressure before finding top gear and putting the race to bed.

However, we know he is likely to face perhaps his biggest challenge since becoming the Champion Hurdler in the shape of Apple’s Jade, and we didn’t learn much about him here aside from his wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson, speaking to Sky Sports Racing: “It was a muddling old race. He led down the back and then Barry took a pull and let another horse take a lead. I thought he jumped a bit slicker than at Kempton where he made one howler, but I'm not saying that as an excuse. I'm very happy as he did need this race and the timing was perfect. I was very nervous when I thought it might be off and I had Kelso as an alternative.”

Battle lines are now drawn - Britain vs Ireland, girls vs boys, Henderson vs Elliott, champ vs contender - for a Tuesday in mid-March: bring on the show!

 

  1. Joseph and his Multi-Coloured Triumph Brigade
Your first 30 days for just £1

Joseph O’Brien has quickly established himself as one of the leading National Hunt trainers in the game – on either side of the Irish Sea – and using his high-class resources, he has emerged with a fine team of juvenile hurdlers.

Sir Erec, strongly fancied for the race beforehand, was an impressive winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over the weekend when beating stablemate Gardens of Babylon by five lengths. In so doing, he launched himself to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting, where he’s now 9/4 generally, from 7/1 before Sunday.

Joseph O’Brien, speaking to the Racing Post: "Making the running with Sir Erec wasn't ideal but he's very straightforward and he did it very well. Stamina is probably his forte but he quickened well from the second last. It was only his second run over hurdles, whereas Fakir D'Oudairies has more experience, if not quite the same engine as this fellow."

 

In winning convincingly here, he displaced the wildly impressive Cheltenham trial winner, Fakir D’Doudaries, from the top of the market. That was the second 1-2 for the stable in major Triumph trials, as Fine Brunello was a 13 length second at Cheltenham on Trials Day.

Be smart: Given his incredibly close proximity to high-class flat horses, O’Brien could have much success in this sphere, including with horses making their jumping debut. Also, with so many options – and the backing of JP McManus to help – we could still see some targets being switched.

 

  1. Defi-nitely Maybe

Onlookers at Sandown were treated to a thrilling tale of revenge, as Defi Du Seuil reversed Cheltenham form with Lostintranslation in a battling victory to take the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

 

https://twitter.com/TheJockeyClub/status/1091789376663838725

 

Flashback: Only ten weeks ago, Defi was being trashed by Lalor in the Racing Post Arkle Trial, ballooning each fence and looking like he’d confound Phillip Hobbs once again after his great juvenile hurdling season two campaigns ago.

But Hobbs has managed to coax the required fencing improvement from him on each run since that clumsy display, and he battled back determinedly under a fine Barry Geraghty drive. In so doing, he cast aside any lingering apprehensions about his finishing effort after Lostintranslation worried him out of the Dipper on New Year’s Day, albeit with a 3lbs weight turnaround.

Favourite Vinndication didn’t travel with any zest at all and stayed on fairly well to finish third, beaten just a couple of lengths. Kim Bailey reported that he didn’t like the ground – which was sticky 'holding' turf – so he adds further intrigue should the three re-engage in the JLT.

Philip Hobbs, after unsaddling Defi Du Seuil: “Barry was delighted with him, particularly with the way he jumped and coped with the ground. Where we go from here, a lot will depend on the ground, but he certainly saw the trip out well.”

 

  1. Here’s what else happened
  • Bellshill took a thrilling Irish Gold Cup, albeit in a decimated field, as he was driven home by a short head to beat Road To Respect under a great Ruby Walsh drive. He was cut to cut to a general 12-1 (from 16) for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Walsh was just as good aboard Klassical Dream, who is now as short as 8-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after a dramatic Grade 1 success in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, just touching off his stablemate and past Grade 1 winner, Aramon.

 

  • La Bague Au Roi struck a notable success for Britain with a gritty front-running success in the Flogas Novice Chase, holding off 33/1 outsider Kaiser Black after Delta Work was withdrawn. It’s probable she’ll miss Cheltenham for Aintree, and it is also to be hoped that Winter Escape will bounce back after bursting a blood vessel.

  • Envoi Allen booked his Cheltenham ticket on Saturday, winning the Matheson (C&G) I.N.H. Flat Race at Leopardstown. The favourite stuck his neck right out to the line and beat the closing Meticulous, owned by Michael Tabour and trained by Joesph O’Brien, and is now being aimed at the Festival Bumper.

 

  • Commander Of Fleet proved himself a promising stayer with a battling victory over Rhinestone in the the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle. He relished the step up in trip and might go further in the Albert Bartlett as Battleoverdoyen looks set for the Ballymore. Champion Bumper winner Relegate finished with a wet sail to take fifth but she must learn to jump better.

  • Min repeated his 2018 win in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown but the race was marred by a fatal injury to Special Tiara.

 

  • Le Richebourg cemented his claims as a leading player for what is now a very competitive looking Arkle with a smooth win in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase

 

  1. The Fast Show

The Dublin Racing Festival will mostly be remembered for performances on the track – as it should be – but the track itself was the subject of much attention as firm ground in places on the chase course led to a glut of non-runners on Sunday. 22 of the 26 non-runners with were withdrawn because of the ground, unusually quick for a jumps meeting, especially at this time of year.

The Irish Gold Cup was decimated, with Al Boum Photo, Balko Des Flos, Monalee, Edwulf, Noble Endeavor and Anibale Fly all withdrawn, leaving a four-runner heat that somehow still served up a fine duel, albeit a diminished one.

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1092007571341393920

 

Be smart: This was a perfect storm of weather conditions. Below average rainfall had led to quicker underfoot already, and then low temperatures trapped the ground staff with nowhere to go. This might continue to be the case in future, with higher average temperatures leading to drier and drier winters. However, we could still be in for a nasty shock when the spring comes, as wet weather could make for very soft ground at Cheltenham and Aintree, just as it did last year.

Lorcan Wyer, Leopardstown’s Clerk of the Course, speaking to the Racing Post’s Richard Forristal: "In the lead into this meeting, ten days before this fixture, we were given a forecast by Met Eireann of 40-50mm of rainfall. We got maybe 20mm of that, and we started off on the Monday of this week with a forecast of 20mm to 40mm of rain, sleet or snow, and sub-zero temperatures all week. Watering with that forecast, particularly with the sub-zero aspect, would be alien to me. I'm not sure any other track would go along those lines."

Being Sensible; Noel Meade, trainer of Irish Gold Cup runner up Road To Respect: "It's a Catch-22 situation. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. The way it's turned out today, you would have loved if they had watered, but hindsight is a fine thing. They were in an impossible situation."

**

The countdown to Cheltenham's Festival continues apace, and next weekend the focus will be on Newbury, where the Betfair Hurdle, Denman Chase and Game Spirit Chase all offer Festival aspirants the chance to rehearse ahead of the big week in March. Join us early next week for another thrilling instalment of Social Discourse!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Social Discourse – 28th January 2019

Another crazy seven days has given us two new Festival favourites, the world’s richest turf race as well as the second richest dirt race, and the extraordinary achievements of five brilliant women... and that is where we start this week.

As always, seek me out on @KeejayOV2 or write something in the box below for all your comments, good and bad.

 

  1. Who Ride The World? Girls.

As one of the few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms, some would argue it has taken too long for top female talent to break onto the big stage of racing. That is no longer the case.

  • There are now top jockeys plying their trade in top races on both sides of the Irish sea: in Britain Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly have been responsible for a host of Saturday winners in front of the TV cameras.
  • In Ireland, Rachael Blackmore has ten Graded wins, 73 total wins, and €1,135,265 in prize money for the season, at the time of writing.
  • In France, Mickaelle Michel was atop the French Jockey’s Championship for 83 days until a certain Christophe Soumillon overtook her. 
  • Don’t forget Emma Lavelle, who has brought tremendous improvement out of Paisley Park this season, and Kayley Woollacott, who has the Arkle contender Lalor under her wing. And they’re just two of the numerous women flying high in training.

 Kelly and Frost showed themselves at their very best with wins on Siruh Du Lac and Frodon on Saturday's Cheltenham Trials Day. The former produced a powerful drive to get the better of Daryl Jacob and favourite, Janika; whilst Frost reprised her beautiful bond with Frodon to take yet another Saturday Cheltenham feature as the son of Nickname, only just turned seven, valiantly held the late charge of Elegant Escape in the Cotswold Chase.

TV and Social Media quite rightly absolutely loves these new stars, with fans responding with joy to their winners.

 

Meanwhile in Ireland, Blackmore has struck up a very promising link with the exciting novice Honeysuckle, who won impressively at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Don’t forget the flat too, with Josephine Gordon a leading light who is getting a better class of horse to sit on with each passing season, whilst in France the weight allowance gives a small platform, even if that allowance was cut after a 165 per cent increase in the number of winners ridden by women there. Seems they didn't really need it!

 

  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present Percy

It had been a long time between drinks for fans of Presenting Percy. The wide margin 2018 RSA Chase winner had been off the track for 316 days until his return in the Galmoy Hurdle last Thursday, in which time he’d found his Gold Cup price shortening and his reputation growing in the interim.

So it was no surprise to see a huge crowd turn up to Gowran Park to watch him retain his Galmoy title, travelling well before finding plenty when Davy Russell asked him to get the better of the Willie Mullins-trained trio of Bapaume, Killultagh Vic and Limini with his ears pricked.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Market reaction was instantaneous and positive: he was cut into a top-priced 100-30 (from 9-2) to record a third consecutive Festival victory, in the biggest race of them all, the Gold Cup.

However, there was a twist in the tale, as connections suggested that they might head to the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Friday showpiece. Here’s owner Philip Reynolds speaking to the Racing Post: “Stayers'? He jumps a hurdle every bit as slick as he jumps a fence. We've been talking all year about 'what ifs' because of the ground. Is it my preference? Of course it's not. I'd like to get him back here in three weeks' time for the Red Mills Chase.”

Jockey Davy Russell was also floating the alternative in a post-race interview: "He has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option now as well. If the Gold Cup turned out to be very competitive or if he didn't get a run over fences beforehand, he has that option anyway.”

 

  1. Trials and Tribulations

Cheltenham’s Trials Day is always an important event on the racing calendar, and this year’s edition was no different, with a number of Festival clues as well as some compelling stories.

We saw huge performances change the landscape for two of the Festival’s feature races:

  • Fakir D'oudaries tore the Triumph Trial apart with a superb performance under JJ Slevin, beating his stablemate Fine Brunello by 13 lengths, the 5/4 favourite Adjali well beaten in third, to give Joseph O’Brien his first Cheltenham winner and the now Triumph favourite, as he was cut to as short as 4/1.
  • Paisley Park confirmed himself as the leading British stayer with a wide margin win in the Cleeve Hurdle, doing all his best work up the straight before he pummelled West Approach by a staggering 12 lengths up the hill. He’s now 7/2 generally for the Stayers,from a quote of 12/1 before the day's events.

Those weren’t the only things of note on the card either...

  • Birchdale was handed the Ballymore trial as Brewin'Upastorm crashed out at the last flight when narrowly in front, with both horses surely having more to give. The exchanges had Brewin'Upastorm winning at the time, as he was 1-4 in running, but the real winner from the race is probably the form of Champ, who beat Brewin'Upastorm by four lengths in the Challow Hurdle.
  • Siruh Du Lac just edged out Janika in a pulsating finish to the Trophy Handicap, with Lizzie Kelly earning deserved plaudits for a brilliant drive to hold off Daryl Jacob on the runner up.
  • Jacob didn’t go home empty handed however, as he gave Kildisart a fine ride to take the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, travelling quietly into the race and getting the better of the strong travelling Highway One O One. He’s now a best price of 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase.
  • Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan also took something from the day, as Benny’s bridge was a remarkable winner of the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle, in a victory that truly has to be seen to be believed.

 

  1. Away From Prestbury Park…
  • Dynamite Dollars made it three Graded wins with a with an all-the-way success in Doncaster's Lightning Novices' Chase, giving 8lbs and a workmanlike beating to Ballywood, who had previously won two handicap chases over Christmas.
  • Lady Buttons overcame a late scare as she beat Indefatigable by a neck in the olbg.com Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle, also at Doncaster.
  • Nadaitak sprang a 12-1 surprise with a convincing 22 length win in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle, atoning for a blip at the course last time. However, at this stage he is not certain to go to the Festival.
  • Real Steel, who danced every dance in last season’s novice hurdles, broke his duck over fences in really impressive style at Fairyhouse, winning by 10 lengths and atoning for his late fall on debut at Leopardstown.
  • Honeysuckle was a deeply impressive winner of the Solerina Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, setting herself up for a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival equivalent.
  • At Naas yesterday, Ballyward was left in front in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase after a fall from Discorama at the last, setting himself up for a potential charge at the NH Chase. A winner at the 2017 Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals but not seen since, Champagne Classic travelled like the best horse in the race after that monster lay-off, and looks to retain at least most of his old level of ability.
  • On the same card, Espoir D'Allen took the Limestone Lad Hurdle, where he gave 7lb and a two and a half-length beating to Wicklow Brave despite some sloppy jumping. He’s now as short as 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle.

 

  1. Go Green

Last week I wrote a small bit about Debbie Matthews, the Altior superfan who overcame severe anxiety to see her star win the Clarence House Chase. Here she gets a lot more space, as she deserves.

Matthews has been at it again, this time handing out green ribbons  – think the pink ribbons for cancer, but different – in the crowd at Cheltenham’s Trials Day to raise awareness of mental health and to share a message that shows the best of this great sport.

Here she is, in her own words, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Green is the colour of the mental health ribbon and if anyone is there on their own it's a sign that I'm one of those people who they can come and say hello to. Even others going in a group who wanted to wear one, saying people could join in with them, could."

As you can see, the results are inspiring. A special shoutout to friend of geegeez.co.uk (and many others), Rory Delargy, who wrote a brilliantly candid article on the subject in the Irish Field:

 

All credit due to Fergal O’Brien, who reached out as early as last April to Matthews when her blog had just started, and Nicky Henderson, who let her see Altior in the flesh after the Clarence House Chase. 

 

  1. Pegasus The Wonderhorse(s)

Big Money was on offer in America, where the third running of The Pegasus World Championships took place on a filthy evening and a sloppy track at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

The weather, and its effect on the track, definitely hindered some of the contenders, but so impressive was City Of Light in the Pegasus World Cup that it may well not have mattered. The five-year-old son of Quality Road, trained by Michael W.McCarthy and ridden by Javier Castellano, was always moving well and put away Accelerate in a matter of strides at the top of the stretch before he powered away to a five-length win. Seeking The Soul gave his connections a huge payday by pipping the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner for second, benefiting from a strong pace and doing best of those held up.

Accelerate ran with credit to be third, and Bravazo was a fine fourth ahead of Audible, though there was no joy for Frankie Dettori on Mexican Triple Crown winner, Kukulkan.

 

Michael W.McCarthy, trainer of City Of Light, spoke afterwards to the Daily Racing Form: “To have a horse like this come into your life, honestly, I can’t describe the emotion that goes along with something like this,” he said, hesitating to recover his poise, while his 8-year-old daughter, Stella, touched him on the shoulder in support.

“Winning the Breeders’ Cup was incredibly special. To follow it up with something like this, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be okay with it.”

Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, told NBC: "I will always remember his honesty, he would always run a good race. We enjoyed him for a good three years and he is just a really good, solid racehorse. He ran well in tough conditions and we are going to walk out of here with our heads high." 

What’s Next: Both City of Light and Accelerate will be heading to Lane’s End Stud to take up stallion duties, initially standing at $35,000 and $20,000 respectively.

 

Earlier on the card, Chad Brown’s skill and patience was rewarded once again with Bricks and Mortar romping in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magic Wand finishing well to claim a very good second from the Frankie Dettori-ridden Delta Prince in third. Catapult, who made a big move down the backstretch, hung on for fourth.

 

It was a fine display of training from Brown, who had brought the winner back from over a year off; and Aidan O’Brien will be very happy with Magic Wand’s second given the rain that hit the track. We can expect plenty of good things from her if she builds on that and maintains her form.

Side Note: O’Brien’s night was a satisfactory one that could have been better had the rain stayed away, with Hunting Horn finishing fast for third but not having the tactical speed of the former Dermot Weld-trained Zulu Alpha who won the Grade 3 W L McKnight Stakes. Still, he’ll be sending plenty more horses across the Atlantic in 2019.

A disappointing night was had by William Mott, whose Pegasus World Cup favourite, Yoshida, failed to get into the race from a rear position early, whilst Channel Maker could only finish fifth. Japanese runner Aerolithe bombed.

Chad Brown, trainer of Bricks and Mortar, related to NBC: "I'm so proud of this horse. We managed to get him back after a couple of issues which required a lot of time and patience". Expect to see his campaign geared towards the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita in early November, though whether he's aimed at the Mile or the Turf is still in question, this victory being achieved at a range of nine and a half furlongs.

- William Kedjanyi

Harrington filly shines brightest at Royal Ascot

John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien completed a hugely successful Royal Ascot, though it was arguably Irish racing royalty Jess Harrington, that stole the show.

Better known for exploits during the winter months, Harrington is responsible for this summer’s ‘wonder-filly’ Alpha Centauri. Runner-up in last year’s Albany Stakes, this powerfully built three-year-old now stands head and shoulders above her peers. Destructive in the Irish 1000 Guineas a month ago, she was simply magnificent on Friday, when annihilating a high-class field to take the Group One Coronation Stakes, giving her trainer a first Royal Ascot success.

Sent to the front over a furlong out by Colm O’Donoghue, this mighty filly simply powered clear, storming through the line in record time. Mark Johnston’s Threading backed up her stunning performance at York, with another terrific effort, though was simply no match for the outstanding winner, some six lengths back in second. Newmarket Guineas heroine Billesdon Brook lacked the gears to land a blow, though battled on bravely for fourth.

“I’m relieved because I definitely got very wound up,” Harrington said. “I was nervous today. I know she was very good. We were under the radar in the Irish Guineas, whereas today, there we are as the favourite and we are there to be shot at.

“The ground is key to her. As you can see there, she is a very big filly, she weighs 520kgs. I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out. What she wants is good ground. She is a big striding filly and Colm did not want to break her stride at all.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

There’s no doubting that this was a hugely impressive performance from a filly who looks more than capable of taking on, and beating, the boys at a mile.

The opening day of the meeting had belonged to John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The dynamic duo struck a stunning trio of victories, with Without Parole the highlight in the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes. Dettori struck for home nearing the furlong mark, and though Gustav Klimt closed him down late on, the victory never looked in doubt. Calyx had shown his class earlier in the day, when winning despite being drawn on the wrong side of the track. This is a hugely talented juvenile son of Kingman and looks a thrilling prospect.

Stradivarius was another terrific winner for the pair as he out-battled French raider Vazirabad to win the Gold Cup. Having already landed the Yorkshire Cup, you can imagine this fella going through the campaign unbeaten in top level staying events.

It came as something of a surprise when Gosden’s star performer Cracksman, could only manage a second-place spot in the Prince Of Wales’s. The quick ground may not have been ideal, as he had no answer to the speed of Sir Michael Stoute’s Poet’s Word. The pair pulled well clear of the remainder in a quick time, with the five-year-old winner yet again proving just how good the trainer is at improving these middle-distance types.

To show he’s not just a master with progressive older horses, Stoute sent out the winner of the Commonwealth Cup, when Eqtidaar caused something of an upset in defeating Sands Of Mali. The winner ran a cracker, though it was the runner-up that caught the eye, and was arguably unlucky not to have get up late on. Fahey’s three-year-old looks a class act and could be the one to take out of this race as the season unfolds.

Stoute has an outstanding record in the Hardwicke Stakes and it was no surprise to see his classy Crystal Ocean land the Group Two with something to spare. This fella looks capable of taking on the very best mid-distance types throughout the season.

Team Ballydoyle rarely leave these events empty handed, and on this occasion it was an O’Brien sprinter that shone brightest for the yard. Merchant Navy had proved top class in Oz and has carried that promise to the next level for his new trainer. The three-year-old showed real guts to hold off the French-trained City Light in a thrilling finish to the Diamond Jubilee. Harry Angel was the disappointment of the race. Following a shocking start, he was never able to become competitive, and was eased down some way out. He’s now nought from five at the track.

Magic Wand was another success for Ballydoyle. She seemed to outstay Wild Illusion when comfortably winning the Ribblesdale Stakes. With Oaks winner Forever Together skipping the event, Charlie Appleby’s filly had been sent off the favourite. She put in a solid performance, though maybe a drop back to a mile-and-a-quarter would suit.

Despite winners being tricky to find at times, the Royal Meeting completely lived up to the hype. The best in the business came and conquered, with a special lady from Ireland rather fittingly providing a moment of pure majesty.

Queen Aurelia to retain her King’s Stand Crown

Royal Ascot is just a few days away and I’ve decided to take a closer look at the King’s Stand Stakes to assess whether Battaash truly is a ‘good thing’.

I’m a huge fan of the sprints, and the King’s Stand is a particular favourite. It’s gone to some of the best over the years. Dayjur won the race as a three-year-old in 1990 and Lochsong as a six-year-old in ‘94. Pivotal was another winner at three, when he landed this prior to the Nunthorpe in 1996. Choisir came over from Australia to win in 2003, and Miss Andretti did the same in 2007. Equiano won twice, in 2008 and 2010. And last year Lady Aurelia became yet another overseas conqueror when romping to a three-length success.

Foreign winners have become common-place in the Royal Ascot sprint with nine non-UK or Irish winners since 2000. Wes Ward brings Lady Aurelia back for another crack having already landed the Queen Mary and the King’s Stand in her two previous visits. She’s an outstanding mare by Scat Daddy and is clearly at her best on quick ground at this time of the year. Her two victories at the track have been spectacular. She’s explosive, with a fast five-furlongs at Ascot absolutely up her street. Money has come for her this week and she now finds herself at the head of the market alongside Battaash.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Charlie Hills couldn’t be happier with his sprinting sensation. He looked a high class three-year-old, when winning the Coral Charge in stunning fashion last July, and then putting in an astounding performance to win the Abbaye at Chantilly. He returned with a solid performance at Haydock to land the Temple Stakes under a penalty. This son of Dark Angel is blessed with blistering speed, though he can become worked-up prior to the off. If behaving himself, his clash with the American mare could prove the highlight of the meeting.

Charlie Appleby can do no wrong and looks set to run Blue Point over the minimum trip. He was a close third to Caravaggio and Harry Angel in last year’s Commonwealth Cup and gave the impression that he could have gone faster earlier. He’s two from three at the track and is undoubtedly a class act. I’m just not sure he has the raw speed to live with Battaash and Lady A.

Kachy is nifty and was ridden aggressively last time when just failing to hold off the late charge of both Battaash and Washington DC at Haydock. He’s been campaigned at both five and six furlongs during his career, but I’m convinced that the King’s Stand will prove ideal. I can’t see him winning, though I can see him running a cracker and landing a place finish.

Washington DC came mighty close to winning the Temple Stakes and ought to be suited by track and trip. He needs fast ground and should be doing his best work late on. He was very disappointing in this race last year, when never looking likely to land a blow before finishing 15th of the 17 runners. I’m far from certain he has the basic speed for this test, and I can see him getting too far back in the pack.

Mabs Cross is a progressive filly and ran well to finish fourth in the Temple last time. She was slow out of the stalls that day, and it’s not the first time that her start has let her down. She’s another that could run into a place though I’d be surprised if she’s quick enough to challenge the market leaders.

Different League could be interesting if coming here. Now with Aidan O’Brien, the three-year-old filly was a high class juvenile and landed the Albany Stakes at last year’s meeting. That looked a tasty renewal and she appeared by far the quickest filly in the field that day. This may well be her trip and her odds of 33/1 could prove generous.

This looks a straight face-off between Battaash and Lady Aurelia and I’m siding with the mare. She’s two from two at the Royal Meeting and has looked sensational on both occasions. I’m convinced that Kachy will run a huge race, and I’ll take him as the each-way punt. I may regret not having a few quid on Different League. She’ll need to improve on what she’s shown so far this season, but if allowed to bowl along towards the head of affairs I’m sure she’ll outrun her odds. This looks a mouth-watering renewal. Enjoy.

Flat Racing Elite set for Royal Meeting

It’s more than likely that the usual suspects will be celebrating another successful Royal Ascot.

And that’s to be expected, at a meeting where major players send their ‘big guns’. For sure, the best from Ireland and the UK will be in attendance. There’ll be a scattering of French flair, and add to that a dash of American and Australian power to maximise the international flavour.

Charlie Appleby and John Gosden appear the form duo from the home nation. The former can do no wrong, with Godolphin reaping the benefits. John Gosden has suffered an early season blow, with Enable currently on the sidelines. Nevertheless, he has a powerful team primed to inflict maximum mayhem, aided by a cocky Italian with a perfect sense of occasion.

Aidan O’Brien is sure to hold a strong hand and regularly leaves the Royal meeting as the leading trainer, though punters should resist the temptation of blindly following Ballydoyle contenders. This gathering isn’t like Cheltenham or Punchestown, where following Willie Mullins automatically leads to winners. Aidan and the boys are the dominant force on the flat, but opposition at Royal Ascot is exceptionally strong.

Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget tend to send a handful of challengers across the Channel, with a certain amount of success. Le Brivido landed the Jersey Stakes for Fabre 12 months ago, whilst Rouget’s Qemah took the Duke Of Cambridge.

Wes Ward will again lead an American assault, hoping that Lady Aurelia can achieve a trio of Royal Ascot victories. Whilst Redkirk Warrior arrives from Australia with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes the likely target.

Your first 30 days for just £1

So just who are the leading contenders from the sports elite?

Ballydoyle appear to have a hugely talented contingent, with serious challengers in numerous events. Rhododendron landed the Lockinge last time and is the current favourite for the opening race of the meeting, the Queen Anne Stakes. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. O’Brien has had plenty of success in the Gold Cup over recent years and will have Order Of St George primed for another crack at the prize. He won the race in 2016 and went down by just a short-head to Big Orange 12 months ago.

O’Brien’s youngsters tend to make their mark at the Royal Meeting and this year’s crop look a talented bunch. Sergei Prokofiev is favourite for the Coventry Stakes following a stunning victory at Naas last time. This son of Scat Daddy is thought to be an outstanding prospect. Also renowned for producing high class fillies, O’Brien appears to have another classy duo in Fairyland and Just Wonderful. Both could line up in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Returning three-year-olds Clemmie and Sioux Nation are also expected to go well. The former was one of the yard’s best juveniles and would have needed the run when beaten in the Irish Guineas recently. The latter is a speedy son of Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare. He’s one of the best looking colts in training, and is currently favourite for the Commonwealth Cup.

John Gosden has some of the greatest flat racing talent in his Newmarket stable. His Arc heroine, Enable, is currently out of action, but he has a sensational replacement in Cracksman. The Champion Stakes winner will be lining up in the Group One Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and is rated 7lb higher than his only serious rival, Godolphin’s Benbatl.

Gosden also has Without Parole heading the market for the St James’s Palace Stakes. I must confess that I’m not a fan. He beat a handicapper at Yarmouth in April and barely scraped home in a listed event at Sandown last time. Though this looks quite a weak renewal, I’d still fancy something from the English or Irish Guineas to have a little more class than Gosden’s fella.

The trainer does have a huge chance of lifting the Gold Cup, thanks to the talented and gutsy four-year-old Stradivarius. He has Order Of St George to beat, and one can envisage a pulsating finish with little to choose between the pair.

Lah Ti Dar missed the Oaks at Epsom but is expected to make the start for the Ribblesdale. She’ll likely have Oaks runner-up Wild Illusion to beat, though quick ground would certainly help her cause. She’s looked talented thus far, though this is a far tougher assignment.

Gosden also has a couple of classy juveniles in the yard in Calyx and Legends Of War. It seems that only the former will now be taking on Ballydoyle’s Sergei Prokofiev in the Coventry Stakes, though the clash remains a mouth-watering one.

The Andre Fabre-trained Wind Chimes is set to take her chance in the Group One Coronation Stakes. Just touched off in the French 1000 Guineas by David Simcock’s Teppal, she was possibly a little unlucky that day, and there’s every chance she’ll reverse that form. She ought to go very close.

Along with Lady Aurelia, Wes Ward is likely to send Moonlight Romance and Shang Shang Shang for the juvenile events. Bound For Nowhere looks a live contender for the Diamond Jubilee having finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup last year. And Undrafted looks an interesting entrant in the Wokingham Stakes. He took the Group One Diamond Jubilee back in 2015 and was only a couple of lengths back in sixth a year later. Though now an eight-year-old, he remains a classy type and will run off a mark of 103.

Expect thrilling clashes between some of flat racing’s most powerful yards, at the sports most prestigious event. Jump racing has Cheltenham, whilst the Flat has Royal Ascot. It’s as simple as that.

Blue is the colour – It’s Appleby and Buick Again

Appleby and Buick were at it again as D’bai landed the Group Three John Of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

Dutch Connection appeared to be Godolphin’s main hope of success and was sent of the 6/4 favourite. But it was the ‘boys in blue’ number two that proved superior on the day. Travelling powerfully through the race, the progressive four-year-old quickened impressively at the furlong pole before fending off the rallying Larchmont Lad, to win by a head. Tabarrak had also launched a promising challenge but faltered late on to finish a neck further back in third.

Buick, fresh from his Epsom Derby victory on Masar, said of this latest success: “He had a good winter in Dubai and won the seven-furlong handicap very well. Charlie (Appleby) used the Windsor race as a prep for this and it's worked well. He travelled really nice through and I would have liked to have had another horse to follow and to wait a little bit longer to be honest. But he stuck on well in fairness to him. He's a very talented horse.”

Appleby has his horses in tip-top shape and said: “D’bai travelled very well today and really put his head down when he had to. He holds an entry in the Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and we will keep the race on our radar, but he could also head for the Group Two Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. D’bai is a Group Three winner over seven furlongs now, so it seems logical to keep him over the same distance, but the way he travels in his races suggests that a fast run six furlongs could be right up his street. We will see how he comes out of the race and talk things over.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Dutch Connection proved disappointing, failing to quicken as the front three kicked for home. He kept on at the one pace back in fourth, and Charlie Hills must be scratching his head. The trainer would have hoped for much more following such a promising return in the Lockinge. Larchmont Lad had been ‘put-up’ as a decent each-way punt by yours truly in my Friday piece. He ran a cracker in first time cheekpieces and looks capable of winning at this grade.

Whilst Godolphin continue to make the headlines in the UK, over in America the Bob Baffert show is once again in full swing. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Arrogate and of course the mighty American Pharoah, are just a handful of Baffert’s equine stars to have dominated the American racing scene. Having landed the Triple Crown in 2015 (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes), American Pharoah became the first racehorse to win the Grand Slam, completing a stunning haul of victories when landing the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Justify is his latest superstar, and on Saturday night the giant three-year-old chestnut colt completed the Triple Crown. “It was meant to be,” said Baffert. “I was just watching the clock. It was going to be my friend or the enemy. I was like, 'Oh Mike, Oh Mike, don't empty that tank.”

Of his place among Baffert’s best, the trainer added: “I wanted to see that horse's name up there (with the other greats) because we know he was brilliant from day one. And I am so happy for Mike Smith. There is no one more deserving than him.”

Smith, now 52, said of the winner: “This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”

Unraced as a two-year-old, Justify has now won six on the spin in just 111 days. The jockey added: “To win six races in such a short amount of time like he’s just done is just an unbelievable feat on his part. Really, Bob has just done a tremendous job to get this horse to do what we just got done.”

He can now expect a well-earned rest, prior to a return in the autumn and a date with destiny at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Go Dutch in the John Of Gaunt

The seven-furlong John of Gaunt Stakes is run at Haydock tomorrow. And fresh from one of their greatest achievements at Epsom it’s Godolphin that appear to hold the aces for this Group Three contest.

It feels like I’m stating the obvious, but this race usually goes to specialists at the trip. Milers dropping back and sprinters stepping-up rarely land the prize. Past winners such as Absolutely So, Home Of The Brave, Penitent, Pastoral Player, Main Aim and Quito were at their best at just shy of the mile.

Saturday’s favourite certainly fits the blueprint. Godolphin’s Dutch Connection, trained by Charlie Hills, never quite gets home at a mile. He ran a cracker in the Lockinge last month, travelling like a dream for six furlongs, but those last couple of hundred yards stretched him beyond his limit. His five career victories have all come at seven-furlongs, and it’s not for want of trying at further. He’s come mighty close on more than one occasion. Chantilly in 2015 and Sandown in 2016 were particularly agonising examples, when within a length of success in a pair of Group Twos.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Good ground or quicker is essential for Dutch Connection. If he gets it, he’ll take some beating. He has three wins from three attempts at this level. He looks the class act, and though now a six-year-old, this race has gone to a seven, eight and two nine-year-olds in the past dozen years.

The Roger Varian-trained Emmaus is next best in the betting following a gutsy win in a listed event at Leicester. In a slow-motion finish on bottomless ground, the four-year-old got the better of an ordinary field and will need to improve if he is to trouble the favourite on a sound surface. He’s clearly had issues, with only four starts since September 2016, and though he arrives unexposed, it takes a leap of faith to think he’ll win this.

Tabarrak is another that needs to find further improvement. His victory in a listed event at Haydock last time was a solid performance and he’d found the ground far too testing the time before. Listed company appeared his level as a four-year-old and I just can’t see him beating the favourite.

D’bai may be interesting following a winter that saw him run well at Meydan. He was just behind The Tin Man over six furlongs at Windsor last time, with the trip that day undoubtedly a little on the sharp side. Charlie Appleby has his team in fine form and this four-year-old by Dubawi may have enough untapped ability to go close.

Larchmont Lad could also go well at a decent price. He’s yet to fulfil the potential he showed as a juvenile, though has looked better since moving to David O’Meara at the end of last season. Set to wear headgear for the first time, this looks his ideal trip, and in a field starved of class, he could run into a place.

I can’t see anything beating Dutch Connection, especially if the rain stays away. His current odds of 3/1 look more than reasonable. D’bai appears to be the main danger, though I’ll probably throw a few quid at Larchmont Lad in the hope he sneaks into a place, as long as the eight runners stand their ground. Best of luck to all having a punt.

Dark Angel speedsters – Aged to perfection

Galileo is undeniably the modern-day King of Stallions, but if it’s a sprinter you’re looking for, there’s no better sire than Yeomanstown Stud inmate, Dark Angel.

Retired somewhat prematurely after a successful juvenile campaign, this son of Acclamation has become an outstanding sire of high class speedsters. The all too brief racing career came in 2007, when trained by Barry Hills. He proved to be a high-class youngster, winning four of nine starts including the six-furlong Group One Middle Park Stakes.

An instant hit in his new profession, Dark Angel resides at Yeomanstown Stud near Naas, just a stone’s throw from Dublin. Established in 1923, the business has been in the hands of the Callaghan family since 1981. A famous name in Ireland’s breeding industry, generations of Callaghan’s are famed for producing top class racehorses. Gay and Annette have now handed the running of their business to son David. And speed is certainly the name of the game at Yeomanstown, with Scat Daddy’s son El Kabeir, a Sandy Lane winner Camacho and former top-class juvenile sprinter Gutaifan, all keeping Dark Angel company.

But it’s the latter that has certainly produced the goods in recent times. Two current stars of the speed division look set to further enhance the stallion’s reputation over the summer. Battaash and Harry Angel will head to Royal Ascot in a couple of weeks as strong fancies to land the most prestigious sprint events. Though somewhat disappointing as a juvenile, Battaash stormed onto the scene at three, winning four from five starts, culminating in the demolition of a high-class field at Chantilly when landing the Prix de l’Abbaye. His seasonal return was impressive, and he now heads the market for the King’s Stand Stakes.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Harry Angel only ran twice at two, though one was a victory in the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes. He too came to the fore as a three-year-old, winning three of his six starts, including a pair of Group Ones. Also impressive on his return to the track, he is currently favourite for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, though interestingly he’s yet to win at the course despite visiting on four occasions. He only has four career defeats.

Mecca’s Angel was another top-class Dark Angel progeny. She was also something of a slow burner during the early part of her career. Winner of a Group Three at three, she stormed to prominence as a four-year-old, landing the Group One Nunthorpe at York. She was just as impressive at five, again winning the Nunthorpe in sparkling fashion.

But it was very much Lethal Force that began the Dark Angel dynasty when hitting the racetrack in 2011. He too followed a similar path of being somewhat underwhelming as a juvenile. That’s not to say that he didn’t hint at a bright future, finishing fourth in the Coventry Stakes at the royal meeting and filling the same berth in the Group Two Vintage Stakes. As a three-year-old the progression continued, capturing the Group Two Hungerford at Newbury, though it was at four that his career truly took off. During a thrilling campaign, he mixed it with the elite sprinters, winning the Diamond Jubilee and the Darley July Cup.

These four have certainly advertised the stallion’s influence in the sprint division, though he is also responsible for last year’s QEII winner Persuasive, along with other familiar names in Gabrial, Sovereign Debt and Bronze Angel. He’s also the sire of this year’s 2000 Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win. Trained by Roger Teal, we are yet to discover this classy three-year-old’s optimum trip, though he is being primed to take in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and with his Guineas nemesis missing (Saxon Warrior), he must stand a great chance of going one better.

There’s little doubt that in the coming months others will showcase the appeal of the Dark Angel pedigree. Lansky is an interesting three-year-old. Now with sprint guru Robert Cowell, the young colt showed a decent level of form as a juvenile, and as we’ve seen, the progeny usually improve significantly with age. He’s entered in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot and could be a horse to follow.

Yafta won a couple of low key events as a juvenile and is another progressive looking sort, having won well last time at Newmarket. He’s another to keep on side and is likely to be running at Newmarket on Saturday. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, he looks Pattern class and could have a productive summer ahead.

Though it seems the offspring are not always reliable as juveniles, any that land a prominent finish in a Group event ought to enter the notebook. Tom Dascombe’s Jackstar may be a youngster to keep an eye on. His absence of late suggests he may have met with a setback, but he’s already proved on the track that he has a fair level of ability. The same can be said of the Mark Johnston-trained Deep Intrigue. He defeated a nice juvenile of Richard Fahey’s last time at Beverley. He could prove to be a tasty sort.

I’ll also be interested to see how Paddy Twomey’s Decrypt progresses during the campaign. A fine second on debut at the Curragh last time, he looks sure to improve plenty for the outing and had several Ballydoyle runners in behind.

I’d be cautious at getting heavily involved in Dark Angel juveniles at Royal Ascot. It seems clear that his progeny progress steadily with racing and are likely better followed at three or even four. Nevertheless, the notebook will be readied, and should one make eye-catching progress in the latter stages of the Coventry or the Queen Mary a record will be made. Dark Angel speedsters can be exceptional.

Masar by far the Derby Equine Star

Like father like son. Bred for Epsom glory, it was Godolphin’s Masar that mastered both track and trip to land this year’s Derby.

Having finished third to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas, it’s somewhat surprising that this son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach, had been cast aside by many punters as a ‘no-hoper’. Ballydoyle’s Guineas hero was all the rage in the markets and was sent off the odds-on favourite for Saturday’s showpiece. Part of an O’Brien battalion, his Newmarket success had been billed as a stepping stone to a tilt at the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger). But it was Charlie Appleby’s charge that coped best with Epsom’s unique examination.

Knight To Behold had set the early fractions, with Ballydoyle’s Kew Gardens for company. Hazapour travelled as well as any turning for home and struck the front approaching the two-furlong pole. Dee Ex Bee and Masar were in hot pursuit, and it was the latter that swept to the front closely followed by Roaring Lion. The red-hot favourite Saxon Warrior had been caught behind a wall of horses, though when asked to quicken and challenge, Ryan Moore must have been disappointed with the response.

Roaring Lion looked likely to chase down the Godolphin runner, but it was Masar that stayed on the strongest. As the line approached Gosden’s Dante winner faded slightly, leaving Dee Ex Bee to battle back bravely for the runner-up spot. Saxon Warrior stayed on for fourth, without ever looking like landing a telling blow. There’s no doubting that William Buick rode the perfect race on Masar, always in the right spot and throwing down his challenge at exactly the right moment. The best horse won the Derby, though the best jockey on the day played a vital role.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Sheikh Mohammed said of his first Epsom Derby success: “It's not easy to win the Derby, but we have won it. We are pleased to be here today. Charlie Appleby is a very good trainer and it’s good the horse came from Dubai. Horses are in my blood, I love them.”

William Buick was understandably overjoyed, saying: “This is huge, it's massive. I've come close a couple of times, I think I've had seven or eight rides and while I know people have had more without winning I was wondering if my time was ever going to come. The race was smooth and Charlie was confident that he would stay the trip. He was lovely and balanced throughout and nice and relaxed. He felt like he put the race to bed very quickly. The horse has to have temperament, balance, tenacity, stamina and speed. It’s the ultimate race, the holy grail. It’s what every jockey dreams of.”

Appleby had come close to landing the Oaks a day earlier and was thrilled to go one better: “That was absolutely amazing. All I could think of in the last furlong was that I wanted to be the first trainer to win the Derby in the Godolphin blue. It was a fantastic team effort. Brett Doyle (former jockey) rides him every day and has been so sweet on him since the 2000 Guineas. We just wanted to get him to switch off and we thought he’d stay. William’s given him a brilliant ride, but the last 100 yards seemed a long time. This season, we’ve just been knocking on the door and it was the same story yesterday.”

That defeat in the fillies’ classic came at the hands of the latest O’Brien star, young Donnacha, who rode Forever Together to an emphatic victory. It’s been a sensational season thus far for the jockey, having already landed the 2000 Guineas aboard Saxon Warrior. He again showed great maturity under pressure, giving the filly a perfect ride. More testing conditions on Friday had caused jockeys to track across to the stands side after turning for home. Donnacha was quick to ensure his filly had the perfect berth on the rail and when asked for maximum effort the daughter of Galileo powered clear of favourite Wild Illusion.

The young jockey said of his second Classic success: “Forever Together was very impressive. I got a beautiful trip through the race following Ryan (on Magic Wand). He edged over and kept me company on the rail. She is very genuine and galloped out to the line really well. She is a proper staying filly. I thought a week or two ago that she had a really good chance, then the rain came and I was a bit worried. She seemed to handle it really well, but I was not expecting her to do that.”

Father O’Brien was clearly chuffed, saying: “It’s incredible, I’m so delighted for everyone, so thankful to Michael (Tabor), John (Magnier) and Derrick (Smith), it’s brilliant for everyone. She caught the eye at Chester, she’s a staying filly and got the trip very well. Donnacha gave her an unbelievable ride, it’s incredible.”

Of future targets the trainer added: “I think it will be the Irish Oaks next, we’ll see what the lads want to do, but that’s what you’d be thinking. She’d love the Curragh, you’d imagine. I was very happy with all the fillies really. Donnacha rides her in her work and rode her at Chester and she was the filly he wanted to ride. He’s always been a very good rider, he’s very cool, he rides a lot of work at home, but he’s only 19.”

Though disappointed in being beaten, Charlie Appleby was clearly pleased with the run of the favourite Wild Illusion: “She ran a very creditable race. The winner looks to have outstayed us. She got a good run into it, but I thought the leader had skipped clear. She has just been outstayed, it’s as simple as that. When William (Buick) made his move I thought she was going to go through with it. William said she was not comfortable coming down the hill. She came there to win her race, but the winner has outstayed us and was the better horse on the day.”

Redemption came the trainer’s way just 24 hours later.

Can a Young Rascal sink the mighty Saxon Warrior?

Having landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Saxon Warrior is a short-priced favourite to give Aidan O’Brien his fifth Epsom Derby in seven years.

The latest Ballydoyle sensation is looking to emulate Camelot in landing the Guineas-Derby double and has been treading a virtually identical path. Both captured the Racing Post Trophy as juveniles prior to winning the Newmarket Classic on seasonal debut at three. Camelot arrived at Epsom with an unblemished record of three victories from three runs, whilst Saxon Warrior heads for the Derby having won all four outings to date. Even the BHA struggled to separate them at this stage of their careers, with Camelot rated at 121 and Saxon W coming here off a mark of 120.

There’s little doubt that this year’s Derby favourite holds all the right credentials to complete the celebrated double. He’s by the Japanese racing sensation Deep Impact. Peerless at home, the colt came a close third in the 2006 Arc and has found similar success as a stallion. On the dam’s side we have yet another Galileo mare, in the 2012 Oaks fifth Maybe. The pedigree suggests the trip will be ideal, indeed, Ballydoyle have hinted that the St Leger may well be targeted should all go well at Epsom. His Guineas success coupled with the continued positive reports from the stable, points to a huge run from Saxon Warrior. He’ll take some beating.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Dermot Weld won the Derby with Harzand in 2016 and is represented by close relative Hazapour. He landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown last time, travelling powerfully throughout and showing the better turn of foot to defeat a couple of O’Brien runners in Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon. All three reoppose, though I fancy they’ll finish the Derby in a slightly different order. Of the trio I’m inclined to favour Delano Roosevelt, who finished particularly well last time. He’s a lovely imposing colt and his pedigree suggests he’ll enjoy a little juice in the ground.

Roaring Lion takes on Saxon Warrior for the third time and is currently two-nil down. He showed plenty of zip when winning a slowly run renewal of the Dante Stakes at York, though there must be a concern that the ground at Epsom (currently soft) will blunt that speed. The pace of the race is also likely to be far more testing, with the keen front-runner Knight To Behold likely to set decent fractions. Gosden won this race with Golden Horn in 2015, but I’m not convinced that this fella has what it takes.

Wings Of Eagles won at 40s last year, but it’s usually the fancied contenders that prevail in the Derby. Nine of the last 10 renewals went to horses priced at 7/1 or shorter, so in searching for the winner we ought to focus on those at the front end of the market.

One colt that looked to have huge potential when winning the Chester Vase is the William Haggas-trained Young Rascal. He’s by Intello, himself a son of Galileo, out of a Clodovil mare. The pedigree suggests that he’ll love conditions and though his inexperience is a concern, that run at Chester could prove invaluable. Despite his size, he coped admirably with the sharp turns that day and though I fancy Epsom will not be ideal, his raw talent could see him running a huge race. The Haggas team are in sparkling form, as is race jockey James Doyle.

The aforementioned Knight To Behold also lacks experience and may need to settle better than he did at Lingfield last time. He was an impressive winner of the Derby Trial that day but is sure to have more company at Epsom, with Ballydoyle likely to sacrifice one of their five runners at the front end. Nevertheless, this son of Sea The Stars looks a talented sort and may be capable of landing a place at decent odds.

Despite finishing third in the 2000 Guineas, Masar appears to have been written off by many. Currently best-priced at 25/1, this son of New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare ought to be suited by the step-up in trip. The ground may have gone against him, though his form looks as strong as any bar the favourite. Godolphin have a rotten record in the Epsom Derby, but this fella certainly has a chance if coping with conditions.

It’s difficult to see past Saxon Warrior and everything points to him prevailing. Nevertheless, I’ll be putting a few quid on Young Rascal as I believe he has the potential to put in a huge performance. Delano Roosevelt looks best of the remaining Ballydoyle battalion. Good luck to those having a punt.

Your first 30 days for just £1