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Monday Musings: All About the A’s

This weekend for me was all about the A’s, writes Tony Stafford. Starting with Ascot and the Shergar Cup which - along with 31,000 other attendees - I thoroughly enjoyed, it progressed yesterday with Alpha Centauri and Advertise collecting the two Group 1 races in France and Ireland respectively.

In between, young Andrew Breslin was the focal point in a four-day Gordon Elliott plot for a Scottish Flat-race hat-trick with recent Perth hurdle winner, Kuiper Belt. Most enjoyably for me, though, Aegean Mist ended a long barren spell for her owner-breeder, Jack Panos, at Lingfield on Saturday night.

Five-year ownership records for Jack’s Theobalds Stud until Saturday morning showed only one place and no wins from 22 runners. That came just over a year ago at Lingfield when Aegean Legend, trained by John Bridger, finished third in a modest five-furlong juvenile affair. Her only subsequent start was a highly-creditable fifth in a much better contest at Ascot in the autumn, but she has yet to reappear.

Bridger was also the trainer when Panos’ home-bred full-sisters, the two-year-old Aegean Mist, in her first handicap after three runs from the Richard Hannon stable, and previously-unraced three-year-old Aegean Beauty, ran in two of the later races on Lingfield’s Saturday night card.

can declare a slight interest as when Aegean Mist previously appeared in the last of those Hannon-managed races at Chelmsford on June 21, I took the liberty of asking Jack whether he had any spare badges as a good friend was going there. He kindly said he did, also suggesting a small each-way bet might be a good idea.

I’d looked back at both her previous runs, having seen both of them live, promising enough on debut in a big field at Leicester and then, possibly unsuited by the track when a well-backed but never dangerous third at Brighton. We both came to the conclusion after Chelmsford when, quite well supported at 11-1, that she didn’t enjoy the kickback.

That still didn’t fully explain her last of ten finishing position all of 20 lengths behind the winner. For much of Saturday’s race, a similar eventuality looked likely for the 20-1 shot, but in the last 100 yards she passed at least half a dozen opponents, finishing strongly under Kieran O’Neill to win with a little in hand.

An hour later her inexperienced elder sister overcame a slow start initially to cut through her six rivals, strung out the width of the track, to lead inside the two furlong pole. Here she immediately darted left to the far rail, enabling the odds-on Invincible Spirit filly, Aaliya, to tackle and pass her. The favourite also showed slightly erratic tendencies, almost pinning her on the rail before O’Neill extricated his mount.

She still looked a certainty for another Theobalds Stud place until Petite Fleur, out of sight on the opposite side of the course, caught her on the line. I’ve no idea, as daylight was ending in deepest Surrey, whether the stewards took much of a look at the finish, but Kieran might have been lucky not to be made aware that he appeared to take things a little too easily late on.

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Aegean Mist’s win on turf should not have been too much of a shock. Nine years earlier, her dam Aegean Shadow won first time out, also on Lingfield’s turf at 33-1 from the Michael Wigham stable, before being beaten on Kempton’s all-weather. Panos moved her to Henry Cecil the following season, and she maintained her turf unbeaten record with wins at Lingfield again on May 22 and Brighton two weeks later, both under Tom Queally. She raced just twice more in a concerted seven-week campaign, again failing to fire on all-weather switched to that surface for her final Lingfield sortie, before finishing with a Doncaster fifth for her only turf defeat.

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Ever since back in the early 1980’s when I suggested a quick-fire Saturday, Monday, Tuesday raid on English tracks for Jim Bolger for his three-year-old Lynconwise – he flopped at Doncaster before winning twice at Leicester in the mud over Whitsun - I’ve loved the concept.

I was made aware of a similar challenge late last week when Wilf Storey told me he’d been unable to get Andrew Breslin, a  young rider from the Mark Johnston stable we both admire, for Jan Smuts at Musselburgh on Friday. He was riding elsewhere, but that he’d also not be available should Wilf choose to run anything on Saturday or Monday as he’d be required for the Gordon Elliott-trained Kuiper Belt, as there was a family ownership connection.

Kuiper Belt was another of those questionable handicap beneficiaries that have been exercising, nay irritating, my equilibrium recently, Jan Smuts’ own rating of 56 a case in point. Kuiper Belt started out as a Niarchos family homebred with David Lanigan, running five times unplaced until his sale for 17,000gns five days after the fifth run, at Newmarket’s July sale just over a year ago.

Sent to Ireland, he raced four times over jumps for C P Donoghue, beaten in turn 47 lengths at 66-1; 42 at 50’s; 34 at 100-1 and 58 lengths at 100-1. It would appear that at this point the Mysterious Men Syndicate had enough, and the next stop was with trainer William (hope that’s right) Ross, when after pulling up at 50-1 and then finishing eighth of ten at 33-1 beaten 44 lengths, the penny seems to have dropped.

Running off 92, Kuiper Belt, now in the trainer’s ownership having previously been running under the executors of Cecil Ross, was a well-backed 100-30 favourite and finished a half-length second of 12 to Politeness in a competitive handicap hurdle.

Raised 5lb for that, he reappeared on the same track, but this time under the Elliott colours, in a novice hurdle on August 1 winning by 15 lengths in a canter under James Bowen. The latest official rating has gone up by what seems a lenient 6lb to 103. Wonder what will happen when he next comes to Perth?

When he signed off for David Lanigan, his 57 Flat rating had already been readjusted downwards to 53, and it was off this mark and under Jamie Spencer, who was hardly traipsing up to Musselburgh for his health, that he had the task of beating the ten-year-old Jan Smuts receiving 3lb to boot. The result was highly-predictable, Kuiper Belt winning with Jamie doing his statue impression, by a neck from another Elliott raider, Hurricane Volta, while Jan Smuts trailed home last.

Young master Breslin came in for Saturday night, when a 12-strong field melted away into a four-horse affair with excuses by the dozen, and another painless exercise, aided by the claim offsetting the laughable penalty, ensued.

Today at Ayr, with 12lb extra for the two wins, less Andrew’s 7lb, Kuiper Belt will be tested by dropping down in trip to a mile and a quarter. That said, 65 probably still underrates him markedly, and his pedigree is not that of a slogging stayer as he’s by Elusive Quality out of a Storm Cat mare – ideal for the distance.

Tomorrow at Chelmsford, another “A”, Alexanderthegreat, runs off 68 in a 0-60, showing that William Haggas learned plenty in his time with Sir Mark Prescott. Raised to 62 from 53 after his Eureka win over a Prescott hotpot at Lingfield after three long-priced coconuts to get the initial mark of 55 and a modest Chepstow fourth to reduce it by 2lb, he sluiced past Twister after turning for home miles behind.

He followed up by six lengths in better company at Newbury and gets in here because of the newish rule which enables 61- and 62-rated horses to contest 0-60’s. In tomorrow night’s 14-furlong finale, the three-year-old, rated 68, still carries the same weight of 9st 11lb as the year-older Ginger Lady, thanks to the 11lb weight for age advantage at the distance. His new rating will hit the BHA web site at 7 a.m. tomorrow. How high will they dare to go, and also for Haggas’ Saturday Chelmsford winner Croque Monsieur, an easy well-backed first-time gelded scorer after previous form figures of 777?

Catterick Racecourse – Small but beautifully formed

During a short break in the Yorkshire Dales, Me and Mrs K jumped at the opportunity of a trip to Catterick Races yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Their first recorded meeting was back in 1783, but it was a further 30 years before a permanent racecourse was created. The first stand was erected 1906 and in 1923 Catterick’s Racecourse Company was formed to aid the further development for punters, owners and trainers. Today much of the original framework is evident, though ongoing modernisation and improvement is clear to see.

People can be pretty ‘snooty’ when it comes to racecourses. There’s no doubting that the likes of Ascot, York and Cheltenham are all wonderful venues, with facilities in keeping with the quantity of racegoers they attract. Meetings are often prestigious in nature, with valuable races attracting the best horses, trained by the leading handlers.

But racing isn’t all about significant events and festivals. Racing is a hugely diverse business, and needs to cater for those at all points along its hierarchy. Catterick, like so many other smaller tracks, serve the rank and file within this wonderful thoroughbred industry. The entertainment gained, and rewards gleaned are no less thrilling for those involved, or indeed for the paying public, who quite clearly enjoyed every aspect yesterday.

Catterick has plenty in its favour. A dual-code racetrack, meetings take place throughout the calendar, indeed people can visit the North Yorkshire track every month of the year. Its size is also one of its strengths. The punters journey from parade ring, to on-course bookies, and on again to trackside action could not be easier. All aspects are just a stones-throw apart, and the ease with which a visitor can access all areas is probably taken for granted.

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The set-up reminded me somewhat of Carlisle, though viewing the action is easier due to the nature of the course. Yes, there are undulations, but slight, and the tightness of Catterick ensures that the horses can be spotted throughout the contest.

There’s also an abundance of value-for-money refreshment outlets, whether it be of the three-course variety in the Winning Streak Restaurant, overlooking both the racecourse and the parade ring, or a tasty meal or snack in the Furlongs Café positioned alongside the parade ring. And there’s further options undercover in the Champions Bar and the Gods Solution Bar, both with views of the racecourse. Catterick make the race-day experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, without the huge hit on the wallet.

Another bonus of racing at Catterick is the locality. It’s easy enough to get to, sat alongside the A1, but also perched on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Richmond is within spitting distance, and is a smashing place to visit. Exit the A1 a short distance to the South and you find yourself heading West towards Leyburn and the wonderful Wensleydale area. Horse Racing Shangri-La can be found at the small market town of Middleham.

Thoroughbreds stream through the streets during the early hours, heading towards the gallops on nearby moors, sent on their way by more than a dozen local trainers.

Basing yourself at Middleham is the sensible option for any racing fan heading to Yorkshire. Not only do you have an abundance of local racing yards, but the area is home to numerous racecourses with meetings throughout the year. Catterick, Ripon, Thirsk, York, Sedgefield and Wetherby, are just a few sited along the A1.

And for those of us fortunate enough to head to Catterick yesterday, we were on hand to witness a small piece of history being made. Solo Saxophone became the first of the Frankel progeny to jump a hurdle. For much of the race his performance was less than thrilling, and at one point he traded at 99/1 on Betfair. However, turning for home he suddenly sprouted wings, storming past the opposition for a four-length success. The Skelton’s are going to have fun with this one.

There’s no doubting that Middleham is a delight, and I’m pleased to be able to confirm that though not quite as aesthetically pleasing, Catterick is also a treat, and well worth a visit.

Jim Crowley: The Champ for All Seasons

crowleyjim-151016_ascotJim Crowley was crowned champion jockey at Ascot on Saturday, with never a more appropriate racecourse for the celebration, the champ being born and raised only a few hundred yards from the winning post there, writes Ian Sutherland.

At the start of this year's turf season, Crowley had his eyes firmly fixed on the all weather racing circuit. On All Weather Championship Finals day at Lingfield in March, Crowley confirmed his place in the top half dozen jockeys in that competition with a win in the (almost) two mile Marathon event on board Ralph Beckett's Moonrise Landing.

When the turf season started at Redcar three days later, Crowley was priced at 66/1 for the jockeys' crown, a price that was still available in the middle of July.  While it was not quite the odds of Leicester to win last season's Premiership race, it was certainly a reflection of the chances of a man who had yet to post a century of winners in one year on the turf. That landmark was reached  with a double at Brighton in September, by which time he was describing himself as "obsessed" with the title fight. He and Silvestre de Sousa were neck and neck, the lead swapping hands several times as the season approached its climax.

But the century of winners and the jockeys' title were not the only significant achievements for jockey Jim this year. He also had his first ride in the Derby on Algometer, and in September joined a select band, including Fred Archer and Sir Gordon Richards, to have ridden 45 winners in a month. He may even have set a new record with his win on Castleacre at Newcastle on the last day of the month. (Such things as jockey records are never easy to categorically confirm in Britain, alas).

That's a far cry from the somewhat more forgettable first Crowley 'achieved' in April 2001. In those days he was a jump jockey, riding mostly for Sue Smith. However, record-breaking trainer, Martin Pipe, put Crowley up on Art Prince in the Grand National of that year. It was a day he would probably prefer to forget, as his only ride in the race ended with a fall at the first fence.

How things have moved on for Crowley, and how he has shown himself truly to be a man for all seasons.

 

 

 

 

Sir Michael doing just Grand

Ascot host the valuable Totescoop6 Victoria Cup tomorrow with £65,363 going to the winner.

The task of finding the first home in this ultra-competitive handicap is as tough as ever, with just the 29 runners to choose from for the seven-furlong dash. Trends are always an aid to uncovering the likely winners, and as is often the case in these handicaps, those trends are familiar ones.

Weight is usually a factor and the Victoria Cup is no exception. Only three of the last 12 winners have managed to carry more than 9st to victory, with that trend strengthening in recent years to one horse in the last nine. That one winner was Gabriel’s Lad, and his success came in 2014 when the event attracted a classy field with only seven horses carrying less than 9st.

The age of the contenders is another crucial factor when searching for a winner. Those aged four and five have dominated the race, with just three aged six and above winning in the last dozen renewals. Three of the first four last year followed that trend, as was the case 12 months earlier.

In a race with such a huge field, many will look for a draw bias in the hope of discounting a large number of runners. Sadly, for punters the stats suggest that no such bias exists, with horses drawn high, mid or low just as successful over the years.

Another important factor is the racing style of the horse. Don’t expect a front-runner to make all and hang on for victory in this event. The last half dozen winners were all held up for a late challenge. In last year’s race, Speculative Bid swept from last to first, closely followed by Lincoln, who with a clearer passage may well have won the race. Hold-up horses rule in the Victoria Cup, with those on the front end running out of gas late on.

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It’s also important for contenders to have had experience at the trip. The seven-furlong at Ascot proves a serious test for horses that are essentially staying sprinters. Having just enough stamina in that final furlong will prove crucial.

Predominance currently heads the market, and the lightly raced four-year-old ticks plenty of the boxes from a trends point of view. He’s only run five times which is a slight concern in such a competitive handicap, though four of those runs came in handicaps. He won such a race at Haydock last time, when finishing strongly over seven furlongs to get up in the shadow of the post. He was held up in midfield that day before finding the gaps at the crucial moment. He’s progressive, carries 8st 12lbs, and should run well.

Godolphin have the second favourite for the race in Hold Tight. He’s nicely bred, as one would expect, but has only run three times in his career. His last outing came at Lingfield in a six runner event. On the little evidence we have, he looks talented, but this race is far removed from anything he’s tasted before. It’s hard to imagine that he has quite enough experience to win a handicap of this nature.

Sir Michael Stoute has started the new campaign in corking form. His Grand Inquisitor is another lightly raced four-year-old, but does possess handicap experience, along with an Ascot run under his belt. He’s by Dansili out of a Zafonic mare and should appreciate the quicker ground on Saturday. His seasonal opener was a reasonable effort in testing ground at Newmarket, and that should have put him straight for this. He’s part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and I fancy he’ll run a huge race.

It would be wrong to dismiss Mullionheir, who creeps in towards the bottom of the handicap. He rose an incredible 30lbs during 2015, finishing the season with a win at Newbury. He had Withernsea behind him that day, and he’s a decent yardstick when assessing the form. He may prove a little one-paced, but he’s not without a chance and is another progressive four-year-old.

Two from the top end of the handicap that look closely matched and could defy the trends are Buckstay and Flash Fire. They clashed at Newmarket last August with less than a length between them at the finish. Flash Fire is a tank of a horse, and will be fit from a winter at Meydan. I’ll forgive him his last performance in the mud at Newmarket.
Buckstay is a classy sort and enjoys Ascot. He came fourth in this race last year, but has taken a huge hike up the handicap since then. He’ll be ridden by Jamie Spencer who won on him in a similar race at the track last October. Expect him to be delivered at the very last moment.

It should be a cracker, and I’m taking Grand Inquisitor to win for Sir Michael, with Godolphin’s Flash Fire going close at big odds. Though I won’t be backing him, I’d expect Buckstay to hit the frame.

Sunday Supplement: A Test of Patience

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

You wouldn’t often meet more a more seemingly-contented type of chap than Mark Brisbourne. Former jobbing jump jockey – 1,000 odd rides, 60 or so winners in the days of Jonjo - and long-standing Shropshire trainer, once with 94 in his stable but now down to around 20. “The sort of people I used to train for just can’t afford it now”, he says.

On the days when he isn’t driving the box, you’d picture him cheerfully supping a pint in the bar at Wolverhampton or Chester. As he says, “we’re right in the middle, 35 miles from each of them”.

Mark has won three races so far with Ray Tooth’s useful stayer Two Jabs and on Thursday morning I was just about to go through the entrance at Lord’s with my pal Peter who’d been invited as a guest (with friend) to Spreadex’s box for the Royal London Cup one-day match between struggling Middlesex and leaders Notts when Mark called.

He’d made an optimistic entry for Ray’s horse in one of the Shergar Cup races at Ascot, and before leaving Peter’s house around the corner from the great cricket ground, I’d seen from the 48-hour provisional decs on the BHA site that he’d not made the cut by a number of horses.

Each of the six races for the Shergar Cup takes just ten runners and I think we were number 18, but two reserves are also nominated and the BHA had called him to ask if he’d bring Two Jabs along as second reserve. Mark checked with me, I asked if he knew what the deal was and he said he’d find out.

They told him that if you turn up and do not get a run, you collect £500 appearance (or rather non-appearance) money, making it a small profit on the day after allowing for diesel for the trip. So we agreed to go ahead, with the back-up of an alternative at Ffos Las on Tuesday if he didn’t get a run.

At the 48-hour overnight stage, two of the definite ten, one trained by Ian Williams, the other by Richard Fahey, were also declared to run on Friday at Musselburgh in the Archerfield Cup, which carried almost identical prizemoney to the Ascot race.

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Both missed Musselburgh, according to Mark, with the following explanations. “One was taken out because of the ‘unsuitable’ going, the other on a vet’s cert”. Mark added: “Today’s going is the same as yesterday, while the other horse must have made a miracle recovery!” Not quite so contented as usual.

Mark said: “he would have had a big chance, his speed figure was the best and he was well there on RPR ratings. It’s so annoying”.

I had been under the impression that horses withdrawn under a veterinary certificate needed to miss a few days before being allowed to run, but maybe that was never actually the rule, or it’s been relaxed, but as usual it’s the big stables who have all the benefits, with Fahey for example sending out 15 different horses far and wide for Saturday’s usual bean-feast. He won two elsewhere, but was at Ascot to enjoy the Silver Saddle success of his apprentice Sammy-Jo Bell, who won two races.

“What about Lord’s?” you might ask, or “I thought that the cricket was at Trent Bridge”, but I felt I had to digress for a change. On the way round to the box, I wanted to do a little half-a-century ago bragging so with play already going on and Notts two down for just a few, I guided Peter to the Library and got the nice chap who’s written a book about the year of the four England captains - “1988, Gatting, Emburey, Chris Cowdrey and Gooch, we lost 4-0 to the West Indies”.

He was quiet so despite the fact we were not MCC members – waiting list 40 years, might get in when I’m 110 – he was happy to dig out the three scorecards for MCC Young Professionals versus London Federation of Boys’ Clubs matches of 1962-64. Scores of 14, 29 and 8 were hardly earth-shattering, but as the nice lady on reception said: “My dad would have loved to have played here”. My dad watched all three!

The Library man also showed a little friendly envy and just as we gave him back the three slim folders with score cards of all the matches played on that hallowed turf in those three years, he called out, “Rogers is out, Broad, second ball of the match”.

Before we made it to the box, number 16 in the Grandstand, another was down, and by the time I’d caught up with the other more prompt box-inhabitants and scoffed a nice bacon bap and consumed a first of several coffees they were four down.

I – uniquely among the dozen or so lucky guests – had a Racing Post, and everyone seemed to love the articles explaining why Australia with their superior early batting would turn the screw after their inexplicable lapse at Edgbaston the previous week. I chose to take a seat outside and watch the classy recovery of Notts from their poor start, but there was to be no respite for the Australians, who slumped to 60 all out back in Nottingham, each wicket accompanied by a roar from the boxes which must have startled and amazed the players on the pitch in front of us.

Alex Hayles, Michael Lumb and James Taylor, England players all in various styles of the game, were back in the Pavilion in time to watch all the carnage at their home ground while Samit Patel did not linger long a little later. In the end they won comfortably to maintain their lead in the table, while their teammate Stuart Broad was collecting 8-15 back at home, a return beaten only twice in Ashes tests for England, Jim Laker’s nine and then ten wickets with off-spin in the 1956 demolition of the great foe on an Old Trafford “turner”. I can still remember the grainy black and white pictures as I watched – school holidays – the mesmerised visitors trail to and from the wicket.

Even that humbling on a wicket which exposed their inability to cope with proper spin in the days of uncovered pitches, was nowhere near as complete as this woeful effort in less than 19 overs. I’ve seen many things in cricket but nothing like this.

We were on our way to Ascot yesterday morning, taking the wrong even-money route option, staying with the M4 after the M25 turn, rather than going in the Royal Ascot insurance way off at the A30 past Wentworth.

No signs heralded the imminent frustration of one of those hold-ups where hundreds of people get out of their cars and in many instances coaches to look vainly ahead. I was lucky enough to get into the lane for the Langley turn, and onto the Datchet road which runs alongside the motorway from where the despair was fully evident. It was in the traffic limping into Datchet that the final Aussie wicket was taken for an innings win and unassailable 3-1 margin in the series.

Loads of people must have missed the start of the meeting, but sadly neither the Fahey nor Ian Williams box was stuck in the hold-up so we never got a run. Mark had his lunch and then turned back on the way to Great Ness. “Busy this week?” Peter asked as the trainer said he wouldn’t wait for Lulu, Rick Astley and Razorlight after racing, unlike most of the 30,000 crowd.

“Yes, Ffos Las, Tuesday; Beverley, Wednesday and Bath, Thursday and they’ve all got chances”. We didn’t stay either. I expect you know the football’s started again, so well done England for getting the Ashes done before the Man U and Spurs’ early kick-off. I was home just after the start of Chelsea – Swansea (nearest racetrack Ffos Las). Swansea had 18 shots, ten on target, the champions and team the experts reckon will win it all again, 11 and a miserable three on target in a 2-2 draw. Bit like the Aussies, really, false favourites from where my unbiased [ahem, Ed.] eyes are looking.

Sunday Supplement: The Mystery of the Missing Horn

Gosden decided not to run Golden Horn

Gosden decided not to run Golden Horn

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

John Gosden gets most things right in the operating of his team of high-class thoroughbreds, but the result of the 2015 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes suggests he made a considerable mistake by withdrawing Golden Horn in the hours leading up to the great race.

As Dave Nevison commented in a throwaway line on Racing UK while discussing Ascot’s stewards own own-goal over the belated (and later reversed) decision to declare Speculative Bid a non-runner after a stalls misfortune in the previous big handicap, “it’s nice that someone can afford to miss out on the £689,000 first prize”.

Naturally the decision had more to do with projected stud fees after his end-of-year retirement, but had Golden Horn run and won with conditions against him it would have added to his lustre for mare owners.

Just like the stewards, Gosden and owner Anthony Oppenheimer will have been wondering whether their decision to pull out on the grounds of unsuitable ground, was correct. True Ascot had 35 millimetres of rain in the preceding 24 hours, but as most people reckon these days, the moisture simply drains through.

So it was left to two more Gosden hopes, Eagle Top, the new favourite, and Romsdal, in the Godolphin colours, to fly the Clarehaven flag in face of such as Postponed, from Luca Cumani, Sir Michael Stoute’s Hardwicke winner Snow Sky and the seven-year-old Clever Cookie, trying the most elevated level of competition after spells as bumper horse, hurdler and upwardly mobile Flat handicapper for Peter Niven.

Hardly an elite bunch, you’d say, and you would be right after an epic finish where Postponed, showing great courage under Andrea Atzini, saw off confidently-ridden Eagle Top and Frankie Dettori, who thereby was not even top Italian rider on the day.

The first two, who’d been involved in an in-race barging match in the Hardwicke Stakes over course and distance at the recent Royal meeting, were clear of pacemaker Romsdal, with Snow Sky this time only sixth of the remaining seven runners behind Madame Chiang and Clever Cookie, a 4-1 shot for Britain’s premier midsummer Group 1!

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Gosden’s worries about running an unbeaten Derby winner on what he perceived as unsuitable ground seemed over-protective before the race, and simply silly afterwards. The times for yesterday’s races suggested it was no worse than good to soft all day and the fact that the final time was quicker than that of the Hardwicke will have caused Big John more than a little irritation.

Ascot, principally through the efforts of Nick Smith, work hard to get strong representation in all their big races and particularly the Royal meeting, but even the £1.15 million prize fund for the King George is evidently not enough to entice many top names.

Here we had ten declarations with just one from France, one from Italy and none from Ireland, so no O’Brien, Bolger, Weld and Oxx runner, and the French Flintshire followed the Golden Horn route, while Italy’s Dylan Mouth, unbeaten at home made it a second Ascot flop on his overseas trips in finishing last of the remaining seven.

The first three produced an entertaining finish, but it is hard to see the official handicappers pushing the winner’s mark much higher than the pre-race 118, considering that beforehand, the trio had won just seven of their 26 career starts.

In that context, the 130-rated Golden Horn should have been able to beat his elders, from whom he was set to receive 12lb. Now he sets off for York, and after the show of Gosden self-doubt, maybe the Irish will be encouraged to take him on over the Dante trip.

I’ve missed the odd King George, but I’m glad I decided not to watch the anticipated Golden Horn lap of honour and unlike many racegoers who did make the journey, therefore didn’t feel cheated. Instead I was able to switch back and forth through the channels to keep track of the last meaningful stage of the Tour de France.

Chris Froome and his Sky Cycling teammates have endured days of innuendo about whether or not they and especially he ever consumed illegal drugs, magnified ever since he set up what was to be an unchanging lead in the early stages of the three-week Tour.

At the same time, another outstanding British sportsman, Mo Farah has been suffering the consequences of a close association with a coach about who drugs involvement are suspected. Mo was over the road at the Olympic stadium on Friday night, running his usual brilliant race to beat off all comers before going off to the World Championships next month.

The same evening, Usain Bolt was back in the old routine, winning the 100 metres, but in an environment where cyclists (Froome, South African-born), cricketers (many English Test cricketers were also born in that country) and runners like Farah (born in Somalia) run for Britain, we’ve got a new man who could be as they say, the real deal.

Step forward 20-year-old Zharnel Hughes, a training partner of Bolt’s in London this summer, who hails from Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean island with a population of just 15,000. Because they do not have an Olympic committee, any of their athletes cannot run under the Anguillan flag, but as they have British passports, they can run for us.

So in a month when Zimbabwe-born Gary Balance became the scapegoat for the Lord’s Test debacle, losing his place for Edgbaston this week, Hughes endeared himself to the East London crowd with a fast win over 200 metres. The youngster already has a Diamond League victory on his 2015 record and should go close to a medal next month.

I don’t have BT Sport, so missed the six Arsenal goals in an Emirates Cup thrashing of Lyon, France’s second or third best team. Needless to say the experts are still saying Wenger needs to buy. He doesn’t.

But yesterday’s principal activity was to watch three of my grandchildren on the stage. The eldest played Danny in a rousing production of Grease in which his younger sister seemed to be in just about every scene through an evening which also featured Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, in which their 11-year-old cousin played the leading role.

It’s hard to know where the trio collected the confidence and talent genes, but it’s lovely to think you made a little contribution to the evening.

Sat TV Trends: 14th Feb 2015

The C4 cameras head to Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton this Saturday – like all big race days we’ve got all the trends & stats to help you whittle down the fields.

 

ASCOT (ATR/C4)

2.05 - racinguk.com Reynoldstown Novices´ Chase (£18K Field Size Bonus) Grade 2 Cl1 3m CH4

12/12 – Aged either 6 or 7 years-old
12/12 – Returnd 17/2 or shorter in the market
11/12 – Won between 1-3 times over fences before
11/12 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
10/12 – Won their last race
10/12 – Winners from the top 3 in the betting
9/12 – Won by an Irish bred horse
8/12 – Won over at least 3m (fences) previously
7/12 – Favourites placed
7/12 – Went onto run in that season’s RSA Chase (2 winners)
6/12 – Favourites (1 joint)
6/12 – Went onto finish 5th or better in the RSA Chase
3/12 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
3/12 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/12 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
2/12 – Trained by Jonjo O’Neill
Note: The 2005 & 2006 - Run at Lingfield Park
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 10/3

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Paul Nicholls has a 27% record with his chasers here

2.40 - Weatherbys Hamilton Chase Limited Handicap (Listed Race) Cl1 3m CH4

Only 4 previous runnings
4/4 – Returned 9/1 or shorter in the betting
4/4 – 1 or 2 chase wins
4/4 – Raced at either Ascot (2) or Cheltenham (2) last time out
3/4 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) previously
3/4 – Winning distance head or shorter
3/4 – Carried 10-13 or less in weight
3/4 – Had raced at Ascot (fences) before
3/4 – Aged in double-figures
2/4 – Won last time out
2/4 – Irish bred
1/4 – Favourites
Vino Griego won the race in 2013
The average winning SP in the last 4 runnings is 11/2

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Nicky Henderson has a 32% record with his chasers here
Emma Lavelle is just 1 from 17 with her chasers here
Paddy Brennan is just 1 from 17 riding chasers here

3.15 - Les Ambassadeurs Casino Handicap Hurdle Cl2 2m3f110y CH4

9/9 – Raced within the last 5 weeks
8/9 – Won between 1-3 times over hurdles previously
7/9 – Winning distance – 1 ¼ or less
6/9 – Aged either 5 or 6 years-old
6/9 – Carried 10-12 or less
6/9 – Went onto race at that season’s Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
6/9 – Won over 2m4f or further previously
5/9 – Placed in the top 4 last time out
5/9 – Returned 9/1 or bigger
5/9 – From outside the top 3 in the betting
4/9 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
4/9 – Raced at Ascot over hurdles previously
4/9 – Irish bred
4/9 – Favourites
2/9 – Favourites (1 joint)
2/9 – Ran at Sandown last time out
2/9 – Trained by Dr Richard Newland
The average winning SP in the last 8 runnings is 12/1

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Paul Nicholls has a 22% record with his hurdlers here
Don McCain has a 27% record with his hurdlers here
Tom Cannon is 0 from 20 riding hurdlers here

3.50 - Betfair Ascot Chase Grade 1 Cl1 2m5f110y CH4

12/12 – Won over at least 2 ½ (fences) before
11/12 – Returned at 15/2 or shorter in the market
10/12 – Winners from the top 3 in the market
10/12 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
10/12 – Winning distance – 4 lengths or more
10/12 – Winners that failed to win their next start
9/12 – Placed favourites
8/12 – Returned 2/1 or shorter in the market
8/12 – Favourites
8/12 – Officially rated 158 or higher
7/12 – Won between 1-4 times over fences before
6/12 – Unplaced last time out
5/12 – Ran at Kempton (King George) last time out
4/12 – Winners that ran in that season’s Ryanair Chase (1 winner, Cue Card) later that year
4/12 – Won over fences at Ascot before
3/12 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
3/12 – Won last time out
The winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 11/4
Note: The 2005 & 2006 - Run at Lingfield Park

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Nicky Henderson has a 32% record with his chasers here
Paul Nicholls has a 27% record with his chasers here
Alan King is just 2 from 23 with his chasers here


HAYDOCK (RUK/C4)


2.20 - Betfred "Still Treble Odds On Lucky 15´s" Hurdle (Registered As The Rendlesham Hurdle) Grade 2 Cl1 3m CH4

12/12 – Returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting
10/12 – Ran within the last 5 weeks
9/12 – Won over at least 3m (hurdles) previously
9/12 – Winning distance – 3 ½ lengths or more
9/12 – Rated 145 or higher
9/12 – Favourites placed
9/12 – Aged 8 or younger
8/12 – Won at least 4 times over hurdles previously
7/12 – Aged either 6 or 7 years-old
7/12 – From the top 3 in the betting
7/12 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
6/12 – Went onto run in that season’s World Hurdle (no winners)
5/12 – French-bred
4/12 – Favourites
4/12 – Had raced at Haydock previously
2/12 – Raced at Cheltenham last time out
2/12 – Raced at Ascot last time out
1/12 – Favourites
1/12 – Winners that went onto win the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 13/2
Restless Harry won the race in 2012
Cross Kennon won the race in 2011
Note: The 2003, 2004, 2005 - Run at Kempton Park

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Don McCain has a 24% record with his hurdlers here
Emma Lavelle has a 27% record with her hurdles here
Brian Hughes is just 2 from 37 riding over hurdles here

2.55 - Betfred Grand National Trial (Handicap Chase) (Grade 3) Cl1 3m5f CH4

12/12 – UK trained winners
12/12 – Had won between 2-4 times over fences (rules) before
11/12 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) before
10/12 – Finished in the top three last time out
10/12 – Aged 10 or younger
10/12 – Had won just 2 or 3 times over fences (rules) before
9/12 – Carried 11-0 or less
9/12 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
9/12 – Aged 9 or younger
9/12 – Had raced within the last 7 weeks
9/12 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
8/12 – Finished in the top two last time out
8/12 – Rated 135 or higher
6/12 – Winners that went onto run in that season’s Grand National (all unplaced)
6/12 – Unplaced favourites
5/12 – Won last time out
4/12 – Irish-bred winners
4/12 – Winners that won by exactly 15 lengths
4/12 – Ran in the Welsh Grand National last time out
3/12 – Won with 11-12 in weight
3/12 – Finished 1st or 2nd in the Welsh Grand National last time out
2/12 – Trained by Lucinda Russell
2/12 – Winning favourites
Seeyouatmidnight won this in 2014
Across the Bay won this in 2013
The average winning SP in the last 11 runnings is 10.4/1

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Paul Nicholls has a 32% record with his chasers here
Nigel Twiston-Davies is just 2 from 39 with his chasers here
James Reveley is just 2 from 22 riding over fences here

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WINCANTON (RUK/C4)

3.35 - Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle (Grade 2) Cl1 2m CH4

11/11 – Ran within the last 8 weeks
10/11 – From the top 3 in the betting
10/11 – Returned 10/3 or shorter in the betting
10/11 – Won at least 3 times over hurdles before
10/11 – Went onto run in that season’s Champion Hurdle (1 winner Katchit)
10/11 – Favourites to finish in the top 3
9/11 – Placed 1st or 2nd in their last race
8/11 – Aged either 5 or 6 years-old
8/11 – Rated 155 or higher
7/11 – Favourites
7/11 – Won their last race
4/11 – Ran at Sandown last time out
3/11 – Ridden by AP McCoy
2/11 – Trained by Alan King
1/11 – Went onto win the World Hurdle (Inglis Drever)
The average winning SP in the last is 11/4

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Paul Nicholls has a 32% record with his hurdlers here
Nicky Henderson has a 24% record with his hurdlers here
Mark Gillard is just 2 from 44 with his hurdlers here

 

 

Trainers Quotes

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Some Recent Quotes..................

"Katie Gale: Poor first run back last week but despite that we are expecting a lot more now she's back up in trip and seems to have come on for that outing. They went a bit quick for her last time too. Has won here over 2m in the past and with that recent run under her belt then we should see a different horse here."
Mick Appleby

10/02/15 1st 7/2

"SUDDEN WISH has been off for a while and could just need this today on her first run back. Whatever SUDDEN WISH does today I expect to see some improvement from this run today"
Gary Moore

09/02/15 3rd 14/1

"Laughton Park: Up 12lbs for his last win which I thought was a bit harsh. Returning from a ten month absence and can be a bit of a stuffy/lazy horse at home. Not the strongest race for the grade but he will come on for the run. Might sneak into a place."
Suzy Smith

09/02/15 1st 13/2

"Dewala: Off the mark last time over hurdles at Doncaster - has come out of that race well and the tight track here will help her running style. AP booked to ride a big plus too and should go close to defying the 8lb rise."
Mick Appleby

09/02/15 1st 2/1

"TRAFFIC FLUIDE is a keen type so this drop back in trip on better going conditions just could make a difference today. This race could see all four horses finish very close as I have respect for all the runners"
Gary Moore

09/02/15 1st 11/8

"Street Force: Decent horse for Clive Brittain - only third run for us and better last time out. Handles the track and expected to be in the mix as getting better by the race, but on these terms might have it all to do to beat the Kevin Ryan horse."
Mick Appleby

08/02/15 1st 5/2

"Electric Qatar: Third last time out here - but race with 8 CD winners in so a lot of chances. We are one of those previous winners and we were really pleased with his recent run (not beaten far). Same mark and same conditions give him a great chance of being in the mix again and three non-runners a plus too."
Mick Appleby

08/02/15 1st 5/2

"Good race but VIOLET DANCER has been a solid performer all season. I have no going concerns and he  is working well at home"
Gary Moore

07/02/15 1st 20/1



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Saturday TV Trends: 20th Dec 2014

It’s the last weekend before Christmas and it looks set to be another decent Saturday of jumping action with the C4 cameras heading to Haydock and Ascot for six LIVE races.
So to help you narrow down the fields Andy Newton returns with all the big-race trends, plus key jockey and trainer stats ahead of each race.

 

ASCOT (ATR/C4)

1.50 – BGC Partners Handicap Chase Cl3 2m1f CH4

6/6 – Carried 11-1 or more in weight
5/6 – Aged 7 or older
5/6 – Officially Rated between 130-137
5/6 – Won at least twice over fences previously
5/6 – Won a chase race over 2m1f previously
4/6 – French bred
4/6 – Priced 6/1 or shorter in the betting
3/6 – Won their last race
2/6 – Ran at Ascot last time out
2/6 – Trained by Venetia Williams
1/6 – Favourites
Lancetto won the race 12 months ago
The average winning SP in the last 6 renewals is 8/1

Trainer/Jockey Stats:

Dan Skelton is 2 from 5 with his chasers at the track
Paul Nicholls has a 23% with his chasers at the track
Evan Williams is just 2 from 22 with his chasers at the track
Jockey Sean Bowen is 1-from-1 riding chasers at the track

2.25 – JLT Long Walk Hurdle (£25K Field Size Bonus) Grade 1 Cl1 3m1f CH4

12/12 – Ran within the last 5 weeks
12/12 – Ran in that season’s World Hurdle later that season (4 won, 4 runners-up, 3 unplaced)
11/12 – Finished in the top three last time out
11/12 – French-bred horse
10/12 – Aged 8 or younger
10/12 – Winning distance – 5 lengths or more
10/12 – Placed Favourites
9/12 – Won at least 5 times over hurdles before
8/12 – Won over at least 3m (hurdles) before
8/12 – Ran at Newbury last time out
7/12 – Winning favourites
6/12 – Won last time out
3/12 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
3/12 – Ridden by jockey AP McCoy
2/12 – Ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh
The average winning SP in the last 12 renewals is 9/2
Note:
2009 and 2010 runnings - Newbury
2005 running - Chepstow
2004  running –Windsor

Trainer/Jockey Stats:

Paul Nicholls has a 24% record with his hurdlers at the track
Alan King has a +£48 level stakes profit with his hurdlers at the track
Jockey Wayne Hutchinson has a 25% record riding at the track
Sam Twiston-Davies is 0-from-28 riding over hurdles at the track

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3.00 – Mappin & Webb Silver Cup Handicap Chase (Listed Race) Cl1 3m CH4

9/9 – Ran within the last 6 weeks
7/9 – Won by a French bred horse
7/9 – Won over at least 3m (fences) previously
7/9 – Aged either 7 or 8 years-old
6/9 – Raced at Ascot previously
6/9 – Carried 10-12 or less in weight
6/9 – Went onto run at that season’s Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
5/9 – Placed in the top 4 last time out
5/9 – Won at least 5 times over fences before
5/9 – Favourites placed
4/9 – Aged 7 years-old
4/9 – Ran at either Cheltenham (2) or Ascot (2) last time out
3/9 – Priced at double-figure price in the betting
2/9 – Trained by Henry Daly
2/9 – Favourite (1 joint)
The average winning SP in the last 7 renewals is 13/1
Note: The 2004 renewal was staged at Windsor

Trainer/Jockey Stats:

Dan Skelton is 2 from 5 with his chasers at the track
Paul Nicholls has a 23% with his chasers at the track
Evan Williams is just 2 from 22 with his chasers at the track
Jockey Barry Geraghty has a 32% record riding over fences at the track
Jockey Sean Bowen is 1-from-1 riding chasers at the track

3.30 – The Ladbroke (A Handicap Hurdle) (Grade 3) Cl1 2m CH4

10/10 – Aged between 5-7 years-old
10/10 – Won over at least 2m (hurdles) previously
10/10 – Won between 1-3 times over hurdles previously
8/10 – Ran within the last 2 months
8/10 – Unplaced favourites
7/10 – Officially rated between 127 and 136
6/10 – Returned 12/1 or bigger in the betting
6/10 – Carried 10-11 or more in weight
5/10 – Won their last race
5/10– Won by a horse aged 5 years-old
4/10 – Irish bred
4/10 – Raced at Cheltenham last time out
3/10 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
3/10 – Trained by the Pipe stable
1/10 – Favourites
The average winning SP in the last 8 runnings is 13.4/1

Trainer/Jockey Stats:

Philip Hobbs has a 21% record with his hurdlers at the track
Harry Fry has an 80% record (4 from 5) with his hurdlers at the track
Willie Mullins is 2 from 4 with his hurdlers at the track
Sam Twiston-Davies is 0-from-28 riding over hurdles at the track

 

HAYDOCK (RUK/C4)

2.05 – Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase (Sponsored By Swift Financial Solutions) Cl2 3m CH4

7/7 – Ran within the last 5 weeks
7/7 – Failed to win their last race
7/7 – Aged 7 or 8 years-old
6/7 – Won between 2-3 times over fences previously
6/7 – Won over at least 3m before (hurdles or fences)
6/7 – Returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting
5/7 – Favourites placed
5/7 – Winning distance – 2 ½ lengths or shorter
4/7 – Had raced at Haydock previously (hurdles or fences)
3/7 – Ridden by jockey Tom O’Brien
2/7 – French bred
2/7 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
2/7 – Trained by Colin Tizzard
2/7 – Went onto run in that season’s Aintree Grand National (both unplaced)
The average winning SP in the last 7 renewals is 13/2

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Sue Smith has a +£37 level stakes profit with her chasers at the track
Venetia Williams is just 3 from 40 with her chasers at the track
Jockey Aidan Coleman is just 1 from 24 riding over fences at the track

2.40 – Grech Family Handicap Hurdle Cl2 2m4f CH4

10/10 – Priced 12/1 or shorter
9/10 – Winning distance – 2 ½ lengths or more
8/10 – Won between 1-3 times over hurdles before
7/10 – Favourites placed
7/10 – Ran within the last 8 weeks
7/10 – Carried 10-13 or less in weight
7/10 – Irish (4) or French (3) bred
7/10 – Ran at Haydock before
6/10 – Placed third last time out
4/10 – Ran at Haydock last time out
4/10 – Favourites
The average winning SP in the last 8 renewals is 6/1

Trainer/Jockey Stats:
Don McCain has a 24% record with his hurdlers at the track
Evan Williams has a 21% record with his hurdlers at the track
Jennie Candlish is just 1 from 24 with her hurdlers at the track
Jonjo O’Neill is just 2 from 36 with his hurdlers at the track
Note: All jockey and trainer stats correct as 18th Dec 14

 
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British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

This Saturday sees the fourth renewal of British Champions Day, Ascot's end of season celebration of British (and European) racing. Although the weather forecast has dampened prospects somewhat, allied to the untimely and premature retirement of some of the sport's main equine athletes, there remains much to look forward to.

Racegoers and punters will be treated to three Group 1's, two Group 2's, and the inaugural running of the Balmoral Handicap which, with a purse of £250,000, is the richest mile handicap in Europe. And there will be something else to assist the on-course betting public this year, too. More on that in a moment.

The action gets underway at 1.45 with the Long Distance Cup, a Group 2 run over two miles. The Queen's Estimate headlines the entries, her last time out win in the Doncaster Cup bringing her to Ascot - scene of her finest hour when taking the 2013 Gold Cup - in fine form.

But she may have to yield to a strong Irish contingent, bidding to retain a prize they've held since the race - formerly the Jockey Club Cup run at Newmarket - was transferred to Her Majesty's racecourse in 2011. The raiding party is headed by reigning Gold Cup champ, Leading Light, a thorough stayer perhaps caught out by the shorter trip and tactical disaster on Irish Champions Weekend.

Heavy ground should be fine as Leading Light, a son of Montjeu, broke his maiden on bottomless terrain at Tipperary. Two from two at Ascot, he'll make a bold bid for the hat-trick, and 5/2 is reasonable if unexciting.

The fly in the ointment is the hugely scopey unbeaten Dermot Weld-trained Forgotten Rules. Winner of a bumper at the Punchestown Festival (by thirteen lengths no less), and the Guinness Race at the Galway Festival (only eight lengths clear this time), Forgotten Rules epitomises the phrase, "could be anything". The runner up there, Shu Lewis, has run some fair races on unsuitably quick ground, giving the form a firmer look than Ascot's weekend lawn.

Still further potential depth is added to the race with Irish Cesarewitch winner, El Salvador, and progressive pair Big Orange and Pallasator still all engaged.

The bookies want to 'get' Leading Light, but I see few chinks in his armour, and reckon 5/2 is perfectly fair. Whilst I won't be piling in, I can't find one I like enough against him either.

Next up is the British Champions Sprint, a six furlong Group 2. Slade Power, last year's winner and the most classy deep ground six furlong horse on the planet, has gone in search of oriental prizes rather than plundering occidental pots closer to home. In his absence, G Force has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000, but the Haydock Sprint Cup winner has to prove he acts on a slow surface. Second on his debut on soft, he's not raced on anything more stamina-sapping than good in seven runs since.

Still, with so few miles on the clock and a Group 1 already on his metaphorical mantelpiece, he could take some pegging back. Another three year old, the unbeaten Lightning Moon, has only raced on the soft side of good, though never as deep as this, and already has a course and distance Group 3 to his name from just three starts. That was a solid performance against older horses, but there are a couple of better class animals in here. So, despite his obvious scope to step forward again, I'm looking further afield.

The one I like is Eddie Lynam's four year old filly, Viztoria. She has had a very quiet campaign, but was an impressive winner of a Listed race over the same trip last time, and was third in this race last year. She's two from two on heavy ground - both at the distance - and 8/1 looks fair enough, especially as she's drawn alongside key pace angle, An Saighdiur.

I must also mention my old mate, Jack Dexter, who will relish the boggy conditions. Seven of his eight wins have come on soft or heavy, and after a season largely in the doldrums, Jack showed more of his old dash last time when a running on eighth in the Ayr Gold Cup under top weight, and on unsuitably firm ground. 10/1 is far from a gift, but I expect him to make a bold bid, as he did when a neck second in the race last year.

The Fillies and Mares Stakes is race three, and the first of the trio of Group 1's. One of the two supplementary entries, Silk Sari, looks of interest. She has been progressive throughout the season and arrives here on the hat-trick after wins in Listed and Group 2 company. She showed on the latter of those runs that she stays very well, and she has form on soft and is bred for it too (by Dalakhani out of a Rainbow Quest mare).

Those proven on heavy ground include Cubanita and Euphrasia, with the former being worth a second look in an open race. Ralph Beckett's five year old won a going and distance Group 3 this time last year, and she's a grinder plain and simple. With a prominent running style in her favour, she ought to go close.

In the same ownership is Madame Chiang, another filly who should love the ground. She's not been seen since a well beaten tenth in the Oaks, but prior to that had won both her starts and both on soft ground. The latter was the Musidora Stakes at York, the form of which has worked out pretty well making 16/1 a speculative price about a filly who has a bit to prove after a layoff, but one which might be worth taking.

If the opening trio of races look largely up to scratch, then the fourth - and first of the features - may be a tad sup-par. The QEII Stakes this year has a highest rated of 122, and that chap - Charm Spirit - is little known on these shores.

But, in what could turn out to be a Gallic double for the two flagship races, Freddie Head's colt is the narrow form choice. Beaten into fifth in the 2000 Guineas, he reversed form with Night Of Thunder when taking the Group 1 Prix Morny in September. There was only a head and a neck back to Night Of Thunder, and there should again be little between the pair.

Integral is a very smart filly, winning two mile Group 1's against her own sex this season. Soft ground is fine for her, though heavy would be an unknown, but her win record of six out of seven at a mile is impressive, and she's a spot of value to my eye. Ryan Moore is a huge fan of Integral, and far be it from me to argue with his knowledge of the the form book. He's a jockey who could make a good living from betting if he wasn't a jockey (and the best in the world at that), such is his comprehension of past performance.

Two at bigger prices that are known mud-lovers are the on-a-roll Custom Cut, and the proven here Top Notch Tonto. The former has won his last five and has bags of form on heavy. Whether he's up to a Group 1 is open to question, but that he should have a crack at one is beyond doubt. I'd expect him to be outclassed ultimately, but not disgraced, in fourth or fifth place.

TNT ran a dynamite race (geddit?!) in this contest last year, finishing a respectful second to facile winner Olympic Glory. He's been a touch in the wilderness this season, but showed more in his most recent pair of starts. I can't see him winning, for similar reasons to Custom Cut, but he's another who will likely run his race regardless of the ground, having won his only heavy ground start over a mile at two.

The lightly raced Kingsbarns, winner of the Racing Post Trophy two years ago, looks a smidge over-priced at 33/1 in a place, if at his best. Clearly he's hard to train - just seven starts in three years - but he has class and he relishes deep ground. On his A game, he wouldn't have much to find with the pick of these, and he's still open to improvement after such a sparse racing career to date.

And Tullius has been saved for this, and gets his conditions. He's improved with age, but does have a bit to find with the pick of his rivals. Still, I expect him to run well in what looks a great betting race.

The Champion Stakes has no Frankel this year - it didn't last year either - and it has no Australia, with the dual Derby winner having been more likely to contest the shorter QEII Stakes prior to being retired with a foot injury. The Grey Gatsby also swerves the race, which is a pity, as they are the pre-eminent middle distance pair of their generation.

The pity is compounded by the presence of Free Eagle, a colt of enormous potential who has been forced to miss most of the big dances this season through injury. After a monstrous return to the track on Irish Champions Weekend, he'd have been a big danger to both Oz and TGG had they rocked up.

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Instead, 'Freagle' will have to content himself with taking on the mighty old warrior, Cirrus Des Aigles. His rivals couldn't beat him last time in the Prix Dollar, but the stewards did, taking him down for interference late in the day. No matter, he comes here in cracking form, and he handles soft ground better than almost all top class performers. Cirrus was being written off last year before running a close second, whereas now he's as short as 11/8, and no bigger than 13/8, to claim a second win in the race after his first in 2011.

I am one of CdA's legion of fans, and I hope he wins the Champion Stakes again, because he is unquestionably a champion. In an era when top class horses rarely race beyond their second season, Cirrus Des Aigles' enduring legacy is exactly that: he is sparring his way through a seventh racing season. Now, of course, that's because his ability to breed was cruelly denied by too hasty a removal of his undercarriage. But the shed's loss is our gain, and this veteran of 59 races - 21 of which are wins, and eighteen of those Pattern race wins (six Group 1's) - is a true colossus of the flat.

But he's not a bet at the price. Nor is Freagle. Dermot Weld's impressive last day winner ran a race that whispered 'bounce' after a year off the track. The bounce, in case you didn't know, is the word attributed the phenomenon of a horse performing brilliantly after a long layoff - often having a seemingly easy race in the process - only to fail to run to that level in its subsequent start.

It's entirely possible that Freagle is over his Enterprise Stakes win, but at 3/1 I'll swerve.

Noble Mission could be good enough to take this, after back-to-back soft ground Group 1 wins overseas in May and June, and a second place in a third continental Group 1 in July. He would be continuing the Frankel theme, being a full brother to the brilliant one, and in that regard would be a perfect story horse, especially as he's trained by the late Sir Henry's widow, Lady Cecil; and I understand he's been training very well.

But I'm still looking for my Champion Stakes wager, and one that is of mild appeal (note, only mild appeal) at a price is Johnny G's Western Hymn. Ten furlongs and give in the ground look ideal for a horse that ran quite well despite the terra firmer in the Derby, finishing sixth. Since then he's won a Group 2 in France, and was a slightly disappointing favourite when fourth in a similar race there.

Although he's had a long enough break since that last start in mid-August, Gosden's colt goes well fresh, and I think at 18/1 he might be a soupçon of value each way in a heat where the layers look to have things about right.

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After that, all that's left is the super-valuable Balmoral Handicap, a mile race with a big field, and that running of the bulls is best considered in the context of going and draw. The pace looks to be middle to high, and it could be Brian Ellison who holds the aces with a pair of mudlarks.

Baraweez is the more obvious of the duo, the ex-Freddy Head-trained Cape Cross gelding coming here on a hat-trick after two valuable seven furlong wins in Ireland. He stays a mile easily, with wins at both that range and a furlong further; is drawn right in the middle with pace around him, and he has a prominent enough run style himself. That may be crucial as quickening out of the mud from the rear past so many hardy handicappers could prove an insurmountable task. He's 14/1 generally.

Less obvious, but still worthy of consideration, is Ellison's second string, Dream Walker. This fellow has box 17, two away from his stablemate. He also has a low weight, and a win and a second on heavy. Those were over shorter trips, and in Class 6 races, a huge step - literally - from today's distance, and metaphorically from today's grade. Still, Dream Walker's progression in the last two years has been impressive. Rated just 56 last July, a rapid-fire triple pushed him up to 77, and a further win two starts later nudged him still further to 84.

Winless in ten since, he's been second or three four times in that sequence, and was only three lengths behind Baraweez in that Leopardstown handicap. It's no surprise to see Dream Walker being backed, and 20/1 with Coral, five places, is a bet.

My last 'guess' is Buckstay. Drawn fairly high in 20, and versatile as regards running style, if he was gunned near the front rank he'd have definite place claims. Although Peter Chapple-Hyam's nag is yet to race on heavy, his soft ground form offers hope: third of sixteen in a good Newmarket handicap on his only try at a soft mile. He's frequently been campaigned at longer distances, in spite of not being bred for it and not staying every time. Fourth in the Cambridgeshire last time - losing a couple of places in the last of nine furlongs there - the 'turn back play' is in effect. 20/1 and drifting doesn't worry me: I think he can again hit the board.

**

Now then, Saturday is my birthday - 43, in case you were wondering - and I shall be at Ascot for British Champions Day. And, in a welcome embrace of something which doesn't come from the more traditional stables of either Racing Post or Timeform, so will Geegeez Gold.

This year's Champions Day programme will feature, alongside each of the six races, the Instant Expert grid for that race. You know, the traffic light thingie that finds loads of big priced winners. Here's last year's concluding handicap - which horse would you have chosen?

Breton Rock was a high profile winner for Instant Expert

Breton Rock was a high profile winner for Instant Expert

If you said Breton Rock, the 12/1 winner, well done, your eyes still work and you're probably not colour blind. [Click the image if it's a bit small, and it will open in a new window]

The  presence of Instant Expert in the Champions Day programme is great for a number of reasons. Obviously, from a personal perspective it's very gratifying to be playing a tiny part in such a big day. But it represents a lot more than that. I believe this is a recognition that there is a better way to help newcomers to the sport, or those who are short on time, to get a handle on the form.

Clearly this is not the alpha and omega of form reading - Geegeez Gold has other tools for that, like pace analysis, form filters, trainer/jockey reports, hot form races, subsequent form analysis and so on - but it is (in my completely biased opinion) the most accessible route to making an informed betting decision for people who know little or nothing about horse racing form.

And it's pretty bloody good for those who know loads about horse racing form, too!

So yes, I'm thrilled about this, though of course the curse of the big moment means that Instant Expert will now fail to flag a winner on Saturday!

I need to thank all Gold subscribers for their feedback and support, which has made all of the features and tools what they are, and will continue to shape the future of Geegeez Gold.

**

For those of you who are not Gold subscribers, why not?! 😉

Actually, on a more serious note, I wanted to do more to showcase Gold features to non-subscribers, so we now have two things that all registered users (i.e. free subscribers) can access:

1. Race of the Day offers full access to Instant Expert, Pace Analysis, trainer and jockey form indicators and more for the second most valuable race each day. Today it's the 3.50 Huntingdon. You'll know which race it is if you're a free logged in user, as it will be highlighted by a big yellow bar.

2. Feature of the Day varies from day to day and gives free logged in users access to one facet of the Gold fraternity each day. On Mondays it is Stat of the Day (yesterday's free SotD tip was an easy 9/2 winner). Tuesdays (i.e. today) it's The Shortlist report. Wednesday is Trainer Stats report day; Thursday opens up the Instant Expert tab for ALL races; Friday showcases the Horses For Courses report; Saturday has the Trainer/Jockey Combo report; and Sunday brings the Pace Analysis tab to all.

Phew! That's pretty cool, right?

If you're a free user, you MUST check out these freebies. They're sure to help your betting. And if you want to upgrade to an unrestricted trial of Gold for ten days (it's only £24 a month, or £197 a year, thereafter, which is ridiculously good value compared to other services), you can do so here:

Take a 10 Day Totally Unlimited Gold Trial

If you're not yet a free user, and you bet on horses, you are seriously missing out. Seriously. Missing. Out. You can register for a free account here:

Get a free account here

That's all for today. Good luck!

Matt

A David and Goliath QE2

Queen Elizabeth ll Stakes

Olympic Glory wins last year's QE2

Further rain at Ascot today saw the going changed to soft, heavy in places. With the unsettled spell set to continue right through the week, heavy ground on Saturday looks a certainty. The weather ensured that Toronado would be rerouted to the US and a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Jockey Richard Hughes was adamant that the horse would not have handled conditions at Ascot.

The jockey’s switch to Night Of Thunder has seen the Guineas winner installed as favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Though his Newmarket Group 1 success in the 2000 Guineas came on fast ground, he was impressive as a two-year-old on soft. Vibes from the stable are positive, and with three-year-olds having such a good record in the race, he has every right to be at the head of the market.

Indeed this appears to be a race where testing conditions are set to suit many of the leading contenders. Charm Spirit continues to prove popular with the punters. Should Freddy Head take up the entry and travel over from France, the recent Prix du Moulin winner looks sure to go close. He defeated Night Of Thunder that day, though Hannon’s horse appeared unlucky in running and finished strongly. Head sounded confident when recently saying, “He has improved a lot since he last came to England. The ground at Ascot will not bother him.”

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Top Notch Tonto was second in the race last year. Trainer Brian Ellison will have been thrilled to see so much rain fall, as his stable star relishes a mud fight. Dale Swift has been confirmed as the big-race jockey. Owner Keith Brown spoke of his pride and joy, “The horse could not be in better form. We really can’t wait for it.”

Tullius is another that loves to get his hooves mucky. His season’s best came in the mud at Sandown when thrashing Montiridge. He then ran well on quicker ground behind the two Hannon absentees, Olympic Glory and Toronado, at Newbury and Ascot. Ground is definitely the key to this fella, and a big run is anticipated on Saturday.

With so many horses swerving the ‘big day’, it’s great to see David O’Meara taking a chance with the progressive Custom Cut. Supplemented at a cost of £70,000 the trainer is confident his horse will handle the conditions. It could be an incredible day for O’Meara, with his G Force currently favourite for ‘the sprint’. Any success on Saturday would cap an unforgettable year.

Two powerful stables that cannot be overlooked are those of Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien. The latter in particular has a terrific record in the race with three wins from the last eight renewals. Kingsbarns is a possible runner and was third in the race last year. Integral is sent into battle against the boys. She has proved herself the best of her sex at the distance and the stable appear confident of a big run.

Top-class contenders may have fallen by the wayside, and the elements have done their utmost to dampen enthusiasm, but of all the ‘Champions Day’ races it seems to me that the QE2 has come through relatively unscathed. If anything the race has been enhanced by circumstances. A mix of David and Goliaths of the Flat racing world will compete for the major prize, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will rise from the mud victorious.

The Qipco British Champions Day

Frankel on Champions Day

Frankel on Champions Day

The excitement continues to build as we are now less than a week away from Champions Day at Ascot.

The Qipco British Champions series began in 2011 and incorporates 35 top flat races, starting with the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. There are five championship categories, these being, Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies & Read more

Saturday Big Race Preview: 26th July 2014

Ascot King George Preview 2014

Ascot King George Preview 2014

A big weekend of racing precedes a big week of racing, as Ascot's King George day comes just 72 hours before Glorious Goodwood's gates open. There are eight races live on Channel 4, and I've taken a look at four of the most interesting from a betting perspective below, starting in the...

2.55 York

A ten furlong Group 2 is the first event to come under scrutiny, and with no rain forecast it looks set to be played out on a fast racing surface.

Danadana is a pretty good place to start. Luca Cumani's Dubawi colt has won five of his sixteen career starts, all over this mile and a quarter range, all on good or faster, and one on this track. Indeed, his form under those conditions (10 furlongs, good or quicker) reads 1211911. The 9 was in an 19 runner handicap at Glorious Goodwood.

As if that wasn't enough in Danadana's favour, he looks likely to be able to make his own running here, with no obvious pace contention; and he has the considerable support of wonder boy, Andrea Atzeni, in the saddle. He's rated just a pound below the pick of these, on 113 and, while the trainer has expressed a slight reservation about his absence of 79 days, Danadana has won both times he's faced a sound surface after a break of 60 days or more.

In short, I think he's a solid bet at 5/1.

Against him are a number of credible challengers, notably the Godolphin pair of Long John and Windhoek. The former is having only his second start in Britain, via Australia and Dubai, and was staying on over a mile last time. That far from makes him certain to stay an extra 25% though, and all his best form is up to a mile (stuffed the only two times he's run at ten furlongs).

The latter is a ten furlong fast ground horse, and comes here in good heart. But he's never won above Listed grade, so this is two rungs up a steep ladder. In beating a field last time all bar one of which were rated 106 or below, he achieved little more than he should, and he looks under-priced.

All three of Secret Gesture's wins have been against her own sex, and she looks to have a bit to find with some robust fellows; while Sheikhzayedroad is also stepping up two rungs on the class ladder and has been found out on previous attempts at this level. He may need a bit more pace to run at too.

I reckon 'Filthy' Luca can claim his second win in this race since 2010, courtesy of Danadana at 5/1 (general).

3.15 Ascot

The state of the turf is a bit more of a guessing game at Ascot, and I'm plumping for good to soft, possibly good in places. In short, I think these seven furlongs will take a good bit of getting, and I don't think it will pay to be too far off the pace.

There are 29 of them engaged, prior to the inevitable absentee reshuffle, but we'll be playing for at least four places and most firms are going five. The first question to answer - or the second after the ground guessing game - is where is the pace berthed?

This looks fairly cut and dried according to the geegeez pace map for the race - it's stacked middle to high - and I'd imagine the winner will also emerge from that mob, towed along by the current of prominent racers.

Those suited by seven furlongs (a bit of a specialist trip), big fields, good or good to soft ground, and Class 2 are Watchable, Majestic Moon, Pacific Heights, Dance And Dance, and Racy. All of that quintet are double figure prices, and I couldn't put you off any of them, especially as all bar Racy are drawn in the pace zone.

The one I like most in a very trappy scrap is David O'Meara's young improver, Watchable. The Channel 4 boys just love banging on about O'Meara, and I reckon they'll have reason to shove a mike under the ginger wizard's nose once more. The case for Watchable is predicated on promise: in just five runs to date, he's only been out of the first three once - and that was on heavy ground.

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Last time out he was third of 28 in the Buckingham Palace Stakes, a ferocious handicap over this course and distance. Danny Tudhope is replaced for the first time by Richard Hughes, and all the signs are that this young lad could add a heritage handicap to his palmarès before July is out.

At bigger prices, and far longer in the tooth than young master Watchable, are the likes of Pacific Heights. This five year old is fairly unfussed by ground - he's won on soft, good to soft, and good to firm - and he's a seven furlong nag that gets the mile well enough. He's run over further the last twice, and ran respectably on both occasions, in no less than the Royal Hunt Cup and the John Smith's Cup.

That form brings him into contention back over a more viable distance and from a plum draw in 18. He'll hopefully be gunned half a pace closer to the driver's cab than normal, and 66/1 is absolutely massive.

Majestic Moon is another for whom seven on the soft side of good is optimal, though I have a slight niggle about whether he's quite up to this. He may very well lead, and that looks to be a tough assignment with anywhere up to 28 rivals chasing his tail.

Dance And Dance is one of those expensive types to follow: always running on when the game's gone. He'll be doing likewise here, but the drop back in trip hardly looks the answer for a latecomer such as he. Indeed a look at his seven furlong form is instructive: "strong run to take 2nd but no chance with easy winner"; "ran on well, not reach leaders"; "stayed on one pace"; etc. It might be his day this day, but he's a heartbreaker, this lad, plain and simple.

It's Watchable from the top of the market (11/1 PP) and Pacific Heights (66/1 888sport, Coral) at monster odds, both each way five places, for me.

3.30 York

The Skybet Dash is a six furlong Class 2 handicap, and some dear old friends reunite for another shemozzle. Muthmir is favourite, at about 5/1, and he has claims. Making his belated seasonal debut at the end of last month, Muthmir was just a neck shy of winning a class and distance handicap, and while an elevation of six pounds is not lenient, it is not especially harsh either.

He'll be fitter this time, and is the one to beat, albeit hardly a bargain in a competitive field of seasoned pros.

Against him, there may be value in the price of the three-year-old, See The Sun. His ten career starts to date have yielded three wins, including on good to firm, and over six furlongs (twice). His most recent triumph was here in a field of twenty over this trip and in this grade. Just seven pounds higher than for that victory, and with a highly respectable run the last day on Newmarket's sodden July course, he's tempting at 20/1.

At bigger prices, I'm vaguely drawn to the prospects of Rene Mathis. This is his trip and class and, though it might be quick enough for him, he has made the frame three times on good to firm. 22/1 makes him worth a chance.

Not a race I'll be getting stuck into but See The Sun (20/1 SkyBet, Coral) and Rene Mathis (22/1 BetVictor) are interesting alternatives to Muthmir (11/2 BetVictor, PP, Lads).

3.50 Ascot

The King George is the feature event of the weekend, a mile and a half Group 1 for three year olds and up. The likely going will not be ideal for some, but if it is on the soft side of good, most should stand their ground. At least, I hope they do.

Telescope is the market leader, and Sir Michael Stoute's four year old has begun to point more firmly to the quality that has long been associated with him. His seven length demolition of Hillstar in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot was impressive; and the soft ground he encountered in both defeats to Noble Mission earlier in the season are excusable.

I think he's a smart horse, and I love the way Sir Michael brings them along with age. He has a fine chance to win, but he does finish second in a lot of races, and 5/2 is a bit short in such a decent line up.

Oaks winner Taghrouda gets the weight and sex allowances, and she's a progressive filly for sure. There was no fluke about that Epsom romp, and good ground will be perfect for her. I doubt a bit more juice than good will be a concern either, so she's a shortlist contender with the prospect of a fair bit more to come. But fillies don't have a fantastic record in the race, with just Danedream claiming the spoils this century. Of course, they're numerically under-represented and it's far from a terminal knock.

Gosden has Eagle Top in here too - as well as Romsdal - and this son of Pivotal, out of an In The Wings mare, has a rating of 118 after just three runs. Given his breeding, he should handle soft ground dancing the can can, but the fact he's yet to race on softer than good still leaves a bit of a question mark, especially when one considers how impressive he was when romping away with the Group 2 King Edward VII at Royal Ascot on good to firm.

Still, he is rated six pounds inferior to the top rated older horse and, because of his age, he gets a weight pull of almost a stone. Despite the four year olds historically having the upper hand against their juniors, I like this boyo. He travelled liked an absolute machine at Ascot last time, and with so much more to come he can surely usurp his elders.

Magician is stepping back up to a mile and a half for the first time since given plenty to do in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Prior to that, he'd won the Breeders' Cup Turf over the trip, mugging Johnny G's The Fugue in the process. Fast ground is optimal for him, and I'd not be certain that he'll be as effective with a spot more squeeze in the lawn. There are no worries about the distance though, and he's a dual Group 1 winner already.

Trading Leather was second to Novellist in this race last year, but that was on his preferred good to firm. He does act on slower, but he's not best suited by it, and I think this may be one of the rare occasions when Jim Bolger's ultra-consistent son of Teofilo fails to make the frame.

Likewise, Mukhadram will not be allowed the rope he was gifted in the Eclipse, and anyway he is very far from certain to appreciate this first try at twelve furlongs. Not for me, not in this deep field.

Romsdal is more interesting given his guaranteed stamina and ground agnosticism. After just four runs, he's the third of Gosden's musketeers to have vast scope to demonstrate more than is currently in the good book, but perhaps that bronze behind Australia in the Derby doesn't read quite so well as Taghrooda's Oaks win. It reads better at this stage than Eagle Top's Royal Ascot victory, but it's hard to crab the winner of that: he was in a different constituency to his rivals, and has course and distance form nailed down.

Let's hope they all stand their ground, because if they do - despite the early defection of Flintshire - it looks a fizzer of a King George. Telescope is respected but short enough on the basis of his more exposed look. That's not to say he can't improve - many Stoutey's do at four - but he surely doesn't have the untapped potential of Taghrooda or Eagle Top.

At the prices, Eagle Top is the one for me. Course and distance form, a perceived liking for a spot of give, and any amount of talent yet to be revealed make 9/2 attractive, relatively at least. Most of these can win this, but if any is over-priced (and I'm not sure they currently are), then it's probably Eagle Top.

Sat TV Trends: 21st Dec 2013

aSCOT jUMPSThe C4 cameras head to Ascot and Haydock for the last weekend before Christmas – Andy Newton’s got all the key TV race trends..... Read more

Sat TV Trends – 23rd November 2013

Ascot JumpsSome excellent jumping action at Ascot and Haydock this Saturday with the C4 cameras heading to both venues – As always Andy Newton is on hand with all the trends and stats….. Read more

Sat TV Trends: 2nd Nov 2013

Paul-Nicholls-001

Nicholls Eyes Another JNWine Chase....

Andy Newton is on hand with all the key TV trends for this Saturday’s meetings at Ascot, Wetherby & Down Royal..... Read more