Monday Mish Mash: From Ascot to Cheltenham

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

Another weekend passes in the run up to Cheltenham, and below are my thoughts on those who pressed their Prestbury Park claims, as well as news on a sartorial storm in a teacup at Ascot...

But let's start with the racing.

Ascot staged the Victor Chandler Chase, a two mile one furlong Grade One, as the feature on their card. Finian's Rainbow had been favoured all week, but had to share market leadership with classy novice, Al Ferof, come post time.

In the event, the two joint favourites both ran creditably but gave best to a horse who has been called a few names (by me!) over the years, Somersby. There was no fluke about the result, Somersby traveling best and mostly flawless with his jumping (aside from one error a couple of fences from home).

A horse who has hitherto not seemed to have an optimum trip, Somersby battled on well to pass Finian's Rainbow on the run in and score by a length and a quarter. Just five lengths back from the winner was Al Ferof, having only his third start over fences, and coming under pressure before the other two.

The rest came in at fits and starts, with the regressive Forpadydeplasterer six lengths further back, and then I'm So Lucky another eight lengths behind that one. Wishfull Thinking ran a stinker, beaten another fifteen lengths and Gauvain took a tumble after leading early.

So what of this gang and their respective Cheltenham Festival 2012 targets? Well, let's start with the winner. Somersby was beaten by Gauvain in the Peterborough Chase earlier in the season, a race that his trainer - Hen Knight - has ruthlessly exploited down the years.

Facts about Somersby. He is a hard horse to catch right. Fact. He is very good on his day (second in the 2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase). Fact. There is speculation about which race he will go for at Cheltenham. Fact.

On balance, then, for me he's a swerve. There are some horses which, if they beat you, you just have to say I knew that was a possibility but I couldn't have him. Somersby for me is one and, even if there was a definite race earmarked for him, I'd still struggle to believe he could see off all-comers.

As such, quotes of 14/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and 7/1 for the Ryanair make no appeal.

The second horse home, Finian's Rainbow, will definitely head for the Champion Chase. He's a high class beast, and fast too. But he was beaten at Cheltenham last year by Captain Chris in the Arkle, and he's failed to improve his form figures since then.

Certainly, it's difficult to see him outpointing both of Big Zeb and Sizing Europe, and the Irish look to hold the whip hand for the big two mile event on Festival Wednesday. 13/2 may be reasonable for each way ticklers, but I'll not be playing.

Al Ferof ran a blinder. I was surprised he was joint favourite, on the basis of two novice wins, and to my eye he should have been at best third or fourth choice on form. (Obviously, he had more improvement capacity than most of his rivals).

To finish five lengths behind the winner in a race that may not have been run to suit - he does tend to hit a flat spot and then barrel on, as he did when winning the Supreme last year - was a very, very good performance. If I was a connection (I wish!), I'd be absolutely delighted with that as a prep for the Arkle.

Unsurprisingly, Al Ferof has been cut for that two mile novice event, and I'd now make him favourite personally. That he is available at 13/2 with Coral is a pleasant surprise, and I've had some this morning. If you read my Arkle 2012 Preview, you'll know I'm not a fan of Sprinter Sacre, and I think being double handed with Al Ferof (13/2) and Peddlers Cross (5/1) is a very strong wagering position in the race.

At least, that's how I've played it... 😉

********

Elsewhere, there was plenty of interesting action across the Irish Sea. On Saturday, the highlight of Willie Mullins' treble was undoubtedly the continued resurgence of Mikael d'Haguenet. As mentioned here last year, he clearly hated chasing and is now unbeaten in his last three tries at the smaller obstacles.

Granted, those three wins have been in relatively modest company, culminating in Saturday's besting of three rivals in a Grade 3, the pick of whom was rated 150. That's a very far cry from either Champion- or World Hurdle-winning form and, whilst an easy win is an easy win, it doesn't necessarily set the horse up for the lickety-split of a championship event across Cleeve Hill.

I have a huge soft spot for the horse, but I couldn't back him for a Cheltenham race.

Sunday saw more Graded action over at Fairyhouse, and more wins for Willie Mullins. As if three notches on Saturday wasn't enough, Mullins bagged four pots on Sunday: the first three and then the closing bumper.

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Vesper Bell won the opener at odds on, and is mooted for the Albert Bartlett. He's plenty to achieve before being mentioned in the same breath as Fingal Bay or Boston Bob, which is the main reason I put so many words into this sentence...! 25/1 is about right, and for speculators, he will improve. Whether it's even nearly enough to hit the board in Cheltenham's three mile novice race is another question entirely. Not for this scribbler.

The Normans Grove Chase, a Grade 2 over two miles and a furlong, was a belting little contest. Noble Prince, last year's Jewson winner at the Festival, was favoured over Blazing Tempo and Tranquil Sea, with a couple of others making up a classy enough quintet.

In the event, Blazing Tempo outgunned the Noble Prince by less than a length. But that tells only part of the story. Blazing Tempo cruised into this but was all out to hold the runner-up at the line. He, Noble Prince that is, was under the pump from the turn, and Davy Russell gave him an 'Irish ride' (as opposed to a 'British ride' under the new legislation) to galvanise his mount for a prolonged challenge.

That effort - conceding seven pounds as well to the winner - marks the runner up down as the one to be on in the Ryanair, a race whose extra three furlongs in trip plays strongly in favour of the Prince. As with Al Ferof, connections must have been mightily chuffed with this effort, and he's worthy of  more than a second glance in the Ryanair wagering. Currently a best priced 15/2 with sportingbet, and that appeals considerably more than the 7/1 about Somersby in the same contest.

The bumper at the end of the day went to Willie and son Patrick Mullins, as Champagne Fever bolted up at interest rate odds of 1/4. He's now been made favourite for the Cheltenham Festival Bumper, and good luck to you if that's your idea of a robust Cheltenham wager..! In fairness, that is still 12/1 favourite, such is the impossible nature of that race, especially when the winner maybe hasn't even run yet.

********

Back at Haydock on Saturday, Donald McCain was lording it in a Mullins-esque fashion, with his very own four-timer, the greedy blighter.

Cinders And Ashes got the ball rolling with a win in line with his odds of 8/13, and McCain was very complimentary about the horse afterwards. He's bound for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, and is a general 12/1 chance, though Coral and Boylesports go 14/1.

It's hard not to worry about his ability to see it out at Cheltenham though, given that all of his winning (bar his debut bumper success at Fontwell) has been on flat tracks, and that he did bomb out when traveling well in the bumper around Chelters last year.

True, as his trainer says, he has strengthened up this term, but so have his rivals. A nice horse, but probably more at home at Aintree than Cheltenham.

Celestial Halo continued his 'testimonial season' by rolling back the years with another Graded success in the Champion Hurdle Trial. In truth, it wasn't much of a trial for the Champion Hurdle, as the Halo's three rivals were all rated 16 pounds or more inferior to the winner. Odd then, that he was available at 6/5, which looks tasty with hindsight. (Things often look tasty, and more often look very stupid, with hindsight).

It's hard to make a case for Celestial Halo in the Champion Hurdle itself, that race shaping up to be an absolute corker, but Paul Nicholls will continue to place this excellent stable servant to good effect, allowing him to mop up more minor Graded contests. He's still only eight, though, so another tilt at the Champion is not out of the question.

He's 80/1 in a place for the Champion Hurdle and, if he goes for that race, there will be worse value offers. Still, I couldn't sensibly recommend him as a medallist there, alas. Very, very likeable beast all the same.

Whilst on the subject of the Champion Hurdle, the previous second favourite for the race, Spirit Son, has been declared a very doubtful runner. He's been removed from most lists, meaning that Hurrican Fly - another horse we've yet to see this term - has hardened to 6/4 with bet365. Paddy Power however are offering 2/1, which is the biggest price for some time on that one.

Hurricane Fly is due to run in the Irish Champion Hurdle next Sunday, and if he misses that engagement, he'd surely struggle to get to the Festival. Of course, a run and a win there would strengthen his position at the top of the market.

All of which means that I remain happy with my Champion Hurdle ante-post pick of Binocular at 16/1 (now best priced 10's), and I still hold out hope that Nicky Henderson might revert Oscar Whisky (33/1, now best 20's) to the shorter trip as Spirit Son, one of his main contenders, is unlikely to run.

Brampour still looks like a bit of a reckless wager for the race (25's, now out to 50's). Ahem.

********

And that was the weekend racing! Management summary as follows:

 - Somersby deserved success but won't be on my Cheltenham betting slip.

 - Al Ferof definitely one to be on in the Arkle.

 - It's hard to see Finian's Rainbow scalping both Zeb and Sizing in the Queen Mum

 - Noble Prince ran a fine Ryanair Chase prep and looks a bet.

 - Cinders And Ashes more of interest at Aintree than Cheltenham for me.

Now then, following on from an interesting post, and some even more interesting comments on Ascot's new dress code, it seems the track is determined to unpick all the fine work it has done in recent years, and return to something close to the infamously despised 'bowler hat brigade' era of Stasi-like patrols.

For those who don't know, racegoers who 'fell foul' of the new dress restrictions on Saturday were given a little orange sticker to wear to identify them as such. Here's Ian's take on Ascot's 'Dress Dummies'.

The arrogance of the racecourse administration beggars belief, and this kind of 'outing' leads to alienation and accusations of classism/bullying. Whilst I may agree with the former (classism), I think the latter (bullying) is a tad far-fetched.

However, the underlying thoughtlessness - putting the track first and the paying punters nowhere (or surely they'd have realised how ostracising and offensive such a move would be) - is a serious concern from a racecourse administration that is heavy-handing its way to owning as many of the top flat races as it can; one which does little to control the more obvious issue of excessive drinking on race days; and one which is happy to pack the facilities to the rafters, rather than work on things like liaison with rail companies to ensure more trains on racing days..

We have a new Chief Exec of the BHA in Paul Bittar, and we're supposed to be ushering in a new dawn for racing along with the New Year. But yet again, it seems that those same old ugly legacy edifices insist on dragging the sport away from the necessary populism that will engage it with a new breed of racegoers and sustain it beyond the next ten years.

What a pity.

Matt

p.s. feel free to 'tweet', 'share', rate and/or comment on the above. Your thoughts are always welcome! 🙂

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15 replies
  1. Phil Eadie says:

    Hi Matt
    Now you know me well and may have gained some insight into my politics over the years. Socialist I am and proud of my roots, I have no time for class snobbery and the various tactics employed to control the great unwashed.
    That said I think a dress code in some cases is justified and does add to the ambience when applied correctly. I have been a life long golfing enthusiast and fully expect and appreciate the efforts made by golf clubs to maintain a proper dress code. It definitely adds to the enjoyment and pleasure in my view and does not prevent people from seeking membership or wanting to take part.

    I do not mean to support the buffoons who are in charge of racing in any way but a dress code in some areas of the racetrack seems perfectly reasonable and acceptable to me and caters to those who wish to make dressing for the occasion a part of their racing day.

    Your own abhorance of suit and tie wearing is well documented, so I am afraid mate if you want to go to Ascot it looks like your stuck in the cheap seats. 😉

    Excellent article by the way.
    Phil

  2. Nick says:

    Hi Matt,

    Nice post to start the week…

    Think you are spot on re Noble Prince for the Ryaniar, and have similar hopes to you for Oscar Whisky (got 100 on Betfair).

    I still feel that if the Fly doesn’t make it (3/1 against??), then Zaidpour will make the race, and although not beating much has not come off the bridle to do so. Was the stables leading juvenile by far on reputation, but went off the rails after a good start… maybe this year he is ready to justify that lofty reputation.

    Nick Mordin thinks he is a massive price at 25’s, and you will probably get 3 figures on Betfair – somewhat speculative, but I think justified at the odds to small stakes!

    Nick

  3. george says:

    What is quite ridiculous about Saturday was it was on a National Hunt card-There is no doubt a time and a place for everything but I would wager that over 90% of paying customers on a NH card are there purely for the racing unlike numerous so called ‘fashionable’ meetings on the flat and associated ‘themed events’ What is it about racing that its administrators are doing their best to be even more bufoonish than the RFU and the LTA in their antics!

  4. Peter Colledge says:

    Hi Matt, I’m with George on this one…NH is for the racing fraternity (note the noun), while Ascot in June is for the pageant, especially as the Royal Family is there. (I speak as a respectful republican). It’s the difference between Bradford Bulls and Twickenham; amount of mud really I suppose.

  5. Ravi says:

    Hey Matt, belated congratulations on the reaching your “GEEGEEZ” million milestone recently, Well done on a great job man. I was away from my desk and only recently sifted through my mail…

  6. john doland says:

    An excellent and readable article as always food for thought.
    As for the Ascot dress code what a farce and George was spot on
    with his comments.I am not against a dress code as when I go to
    my local track at Newmarket it gives me the chance to dress smartly,
    a dress code should be a guide to how you dress for whatever enclosure
    you are in and people should respect that.

  7. Paul Ebrey says:

    Sizing Europe will have slept easily on Saturday Night. Somersby needs a 2m 2f race somewhere to be seen at its best.

    I thought Al Ferof’s jumping got sloppy when the pace increased and when you consider Peddler’s will go flying off, the grey will need to brush his jumping off. Peddlers and Al Ferof have the best hurdles ratings and I agree, an antepost bet on both of those will see you in a good position.

    Yes Ascot made a gaff with the orange stickers but to me, let it rest now. The media have to me blown it out of proportion a little bit and I agree with the new Chief Executive, focus on the racing. They’ve apologised, offered to refund customers ( a generous touch ) and going to learn from it, let it lie folks and work with the courses on making the experience better.

  8. broggsy says:

    Good read as usual Matt!

    Used to go every july to Haydock (annual pub outing) best times were when we went in the ‘posh end’ where we had to wear shirt and tie .Felt good and also didnt have to queue for loos or witness peeing in the sinks that they do in tatts and county(??).
    would never go back to this and would gladly pay a bit more and dress accordingly to make my day better.
    I also drank like a fish in the tote hall and did not struggle to get a drink or food or put a bet on.
    As someone who does not wear a shirt and tie very often It felt good to dress up for the day.
    I also won a lot of money every time I was in the posh end compared to the days in the lower (wear anything areas).
    More relaxed less stress I think.
    Regarding Ascots dress code…they are living in the dark ages!

  9. roddo says:

    Some great observations Matt.
    This is from a true socialist not a champagne one.Open up all racecourses with no dress codes and a pricing strategy like Longchamp.As for golf courses open them all up,run by local councils,no memership fees,just form a queue to play if you have to.Then the labourer has the same chance as the landowner.Vive la revolution
    Roddo

  10. thomas says:

    hi matt reading some of the replies to your comments i find it hard to believe that you are against a dress code, i am from a working background but do enjoy seeing all the toppers and fine dress at ascot its an occasion brought about and envied all over the world by history and should remain the same. what the dress code does not do is to stop people getting p—ed out of there head and fighting only seen last year i believe by men in top hat n tails thats what needs sorting not the dress code

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Thomas and all,

      To be clear, I am not against a dress code at all. What I am against is pedantry within a dress code.

      Specifically, gents must wear a neck tie – fine – and a cravat will not do.
      Women may wear a hat with feathers in it, but not a fascinator (basically a feather hat without much hat).
      Skirt length must be of a certain level (below the knee).

      Do these stipulations really enhance the ambience and the feeling of exclusivity? In my opinion, no. We’re not talking about the difference between jeans and a polo shirt, and wearing a suit. The distinction is much finer, and my opinion – though I appreciate I’m in a minority – is that the focus of the Ascot executive is in completely the wrong place.

      As for the stickers, I think it’s right that we should move on from that howler. But as stated I am concerned about the general aggressiveness and arrogance which seem to be the hallmarks of said Ascot beaks.

      Poor, poor show. Next!

      Matt

  11. Zarah Wade says:

    Looking at Noble Prince’s form today, I can’t say I’m too impressed. Wishfull Thinking and Loosen My Load have only won a handicap each since then. He beat Jigalo, who’s a tree, on his seasonal reappearance, and yesterday’s run wasn’t great either.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Zarah,

      You need to look at his form going into his Festival win last season to see why I like him. Also, look at the distances he’s been running over and compare to his optimum.

      Finally, please don’t spam my site with blatant bookie links [deleted], there’s a good chap.

      Matt

  12. Hugh says:

    Although i enjoy wearing a collar and tie to the big meetings, I think it is the behaviour and the drinking not the dress code that needs addressing. I have run bars and restaurants and it remains illegal to serve the intoxicated. This law needs enforcing at Ascot as does a ban on chanting, immediate ejection for offenders for me.

    Orange dots are too close to yellow armbands for me and of such staggering insesnsivity that whoever came up with that idea should go.
    Hugh

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