Tis the season to be jolly falalalala la-la-la-la
Deck the portfolio with ante-post folly falalalala la-la-la-la
Ah yes, it's December, and we can't move for advertising reminding us of a certain upcoming birthday. It's also a time when the National Hunt season really and truly kicks in, as bugled by the reveille of the Hennessy meeting.
And, such is the congruent beginning-to-end 'narrative' of National Hunt racing, with its set in stone final chapters at Cheltenham and to a lesser extent Aintree, very few horses' actions are considered in the self-contained light of the race in which they've actually just performed.
No, instead, it's "he looks like a Cheltenham horse", or "that was a great prep for the Festival", or "he'll need to find more if he's to be a live contender in March".
And it's the triteness of such phrases these days which are skinning punters of their folding. Over the weekend, I read from various people whose opinions I generally respect that Our Conor was the Triumph Hurdle winner; that Tidal Bay comes right into the Gold Cup picture; and that Big Buck's has shortened in the World Hurdle betting as a result of Voler La Vedette's defeat.
Much of this is utterly irrelevant but the problem is that when punters are confronted with so much drivel, it does become hard to see the wood for the trees.
Let me explain.
First up, Our Conor to win the Triumph Hurdle. Although he's only won on very soft turf aside from a plating flat handicap on yielding, Our Conor does jump very well, and could do no more than win his two hurdle races, the most recent of which was a Grade 3.
But herein lies the problem. An impressive performance in the microcosm of a weekend's racing does not generally match up to the required constitution of a Festival champion.
In the case of the Triumph Hurdle, the last Irish-trained winner was Scolardy in 2002. Our Conor is currently a best-priced 16/1. Those Irish-trained horses to start in the race at 20/1 or shorter in the last ten years are now 0 from 34, and include beaten horses at 7/2 twice, 4/1, 9/2, 5/1, and 11/2 twice.
Moreover, six of those ten renewals were run on good ground. Officially, that is. It is generally the case that when the Cheltenham course inspectorate declare the going 'good', they mean 'good to firm'. All of the other four recent renewals were run on good to soft, which can normally be taken to mean 'good'.
But of significantly more interest is that the first time the Triumph Hurdle winner won over hurdles in the last nine years was only twice earlier than mid-December, and on both occasions (Countrywide Flame and Katchit), the horses were very experienced with five and six starts over timber respectively.
It's my contention that we haven't yet seen the Triumph Hurdle winner run over hurdles in Britain. On the basis of history, which generally bears out that contention, an ante-post player on the Triumph Hurdle is betting blind to half (perhaps more) of the key contenders. That makes it a minefield for punters, and one to be seriously swerved for now.
Next, Tiday Bay for the Gold Cup, for which he is a 20/1 shot. Now, don't get me wrong, it's very difficult not to be enamoured by a quirky yet talented chap like TB. But he's hardly a punter's pal, even on a going day.
His last win in Grade 1 company was in April 2008 (where he beat Takeroc, a horse to which I'll return), which is a month shy of five years before the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013. It's far from impossible he could pick up a Grade 1 between now and then - perhaps something like the Lexus - but old Tidal Bay will be, well, old come March next year.
In fact, he'll be twelve by the time the tapes rise on the next Gold Cup. The last twelve year old to win the Gold Cup was What A Myth. In 1969. Even such luminaries of the chasing game as Kauto Star were not able to trouble the judge at some a veteran age. Only ten horses have even tried to win the big chasing pot aged twelve or older in the past decade, and their collective form figures read 000FP30PPP.
Tiday Bay? No thanks.
Which brings us to Big Buck's, and Voler La Vedette. Voler la Vedette was beaten by Zaidpour in January this year, and I backed the latter for World Hurdle at big prices. Blow me if Willie Mullins didn't run him in the Champion Hurdle. It was as preposterous a decision then as it is now, and - along with not running Oscar Whisky in the Champion Hurdle back in March (yes, I'd backed him for that race too) - ranks as the worst piece of placing at the last Festival, at least as far as my pocket was concerned.
So, let's be clear. If you liked VLV for the World Hurdle, then you should still like her. She got beaten on soft ground. Most of her wins have been on yielding or good ground. She's highly likely to get those ground conditions in March.
If you like Big Buck's, then BetVictor's non-runner free bet offer might be the one for you. Yes, you'll be taking 4/7 when other bookmakers are offering as big as 5/6 (Sportingbet). But that reflects the very real probability that the biggest problem Big Buck's will have in winning the World Hurdle is getting there in one piece. It's likely though that he'll not be much shorter on the day, so why tie up your capital?
There are no doubts with him. He's been there, seen it, done it. He was more impressive, not less, on his weekend run. Yes, he'll be a ten year old in March, and no double digit-aged horse has won the World Hurdle since 1986. But BB is far better than the average World Hurdle winner, and has been campaigned very lightly over the last four seasons.
In short, I think he'll win. We know the horses he'll be up against. Outpaced beasts from the two mile championship division; one paced beasts from the staying division; and the occasional 'can't jump won't jump' reverting novice chaser. With the possible exception of Zaidpour, who I remain convinced is a very, very good three mile hurdler, there isn't another horse in there to trouble him. And even Zaidpour himself wants soft ground.
So there it is. Three talking horses this weekend. None of them worth a bet... at least, not just yet... to my eye.
Besides the three examples, the message here is clear: know the kind of horse which wins the race you're backing in ante-post before piling into something. If you don't, keep hold of your shekels, go and look at recent renewals of the race in question and, if you still feel the same way about the wager after your further research, then treat yourself. 🙂
Now let's talk about some of the other performances at the weekend. The likes of Bobs Worth, Big Buck's and Ulck Du Lin have been given plenty of column inches - and rightly so, in the first two cases at least.
But one fellow I want to give a shout out to is a horse who finished no better than seventh on Saturday, beaten ten lengths. His recent form figures now read F437P07. And I'm convinced he will win a big handicap chase at around two miles before the end of the season, perhaps even the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival.
His name, as regular readers might have guessed, is Takeroc.
Takeroc was formerly very useful. Indeed, he was second to Tidal Bay in that last Grade 1 the latter won, back in 2008. Now a rising ten-year-old, he won't ever be a Grade 1 animal again, but he's got plenty to offer at Grade 3/Listed/Class 2 level.
The key to his chances lie in the state of the turf. Quite simply, he can't have it softer than good. On such sodden green, his form reads 2375947P07. On good or faster, it's a more convivial 1225P70341221153F43.
The last time he had good ground was in March, when he finished third off a mark of 145. He was trained by Paul Nicholls then, and has now transferred to Chris Gordon. And that's why he's going to be a great bet: no name trainer, no recent form.
But under his specific conditions, two miles on good ground, this chap - now rated 135 and likely to be re-assessed to around 132 - looks the proverbial ready-made winner.
Takeroc, take it from me. His day is near, as and when the rain relents.
One other horse who ran a blinder over the weekend is a chap called Khajaaly. 😉 He's one of the geegeez.co.uk geegees and he ran on into third place at a juicy 33/1. It was a welcome return to form, and Julia - his trainer - says he's back to his old self. We're really hopeful of running him in a 0-70 handicap soon and, if there's some pace in the race (which he must have), he'll have a great chance.
It's Monday, it's miserable outside, and the racing's rubbish. So, how about a tip?! I shouldn't really share such a half-baked opinion, and you're welcome to ignore this entirely (in fact, that's probably a good idea!), but I quite like the look of a couple at Plumpton today.
The first runs in the 1.40, a handicap chase, and is called Madame Jasmine. She's won two of her three starts on soft, and all three of her starts over this course and distance. She rarely wins by much and, though this ostensibly is a step up in class, it's a Class 3 on a Monday around Plumpton. She ought to go well.
Funnily enough, Chris has also nominated her as Stat of the Day today!
And the other is Dushy Valley, in the 3.10. He's actually a little short in the betting now, and I won't be backing him unless I can get 3/1. But he likes it soft, is chasing a course and distance back-to-back hat-trick (all in Class 5), and has recent verdicts against a number of his rivals today.
Like I say, the current best price of 5/2 is short enough, but he ticks all the boxes and is clearly progressing from a very low mark.
I should add that I've taken three against the field in the 1.55 at Wolverhampton for interest stakes only: Novabridge, Sally's Swansong and Chester Deelyte. All have conditions in their favour today and, with much of the pace drawn wide, it should be an interesting contest.
Enough of my Monday whimsy wagers, and on with the show. I want to highlight a couple of upcoming events.
Firstly, this Thursday at Wincanton, there is a charity race, where the likes of Dan Skelton, Anthony Honeyball, Brendan Powell Sr., Tim Vaughan and Ralph Beckett will be riding for Racing Welfare. I'm hoping to sponsor one of the jockeys, and it promises to be a very good fun day. If you'd like to get involved, more details are on their website at http://www.charityjockey.co.uk/.
Best of luck to all, and let's hope a lot of money is raised for a very good cause.
Then, next Thursday, 13th December, London Racing Club hosts its annual Christmas Quiz. It's been won too often in recent times by the Racing Post team (so I'm told!), and I'm worried that I won't know many of the answers. That won't stop me heading along for the beer and free mince pies.
Full details are here: http://www.londonracingclub.org/
And finally, I just wanted to let you know that I have six copies of Each Way FX left. If you've ordered already, your manual and full details were sent out over the weekend and should arrive in the early part of this week (allow a little longer if you're overseas).
If you've been thinking about it, then do come off the fence. I know it's Monday, and you've probably a hundred things to do, but I'm pretty sure these will be gone by tomorrow. I'll leave it at that.
Here's the link: http://eachwayfx.com/
And that's it from me for today.
I hope your weekend was profitable and enjoyable, and I'll be back towards the end of the week. In the meantime, stay tuned on geegeez.co.uk for Stat of the Day, the Punting Confessional, Well I Declare, Racing Debrief, Trainer Stats, and your daily dose of the more interesting, less publicised news stories. Phew!