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World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

Despite including the historically significant Big Buck's within its field, the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle is a very strong contender for worst Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.

Whilst such an opening statement may seem harsh, it is rooted in the reality that Big Buck's is favourite as a venerable eleven-year-old, despite having only run once since 1st December 2012. And that run was a defeat.

So, does this possible weakness atop the betting pile offer value further down? You bet your booties it does; the only slight issue is in trying to identify just where further down we ought to be snooping. Perhaps the recent history of the race can guide us...

World Hurdle 2014 Trends

The trends for this race are rather skewed by the fact that three horses - Big Buck's, Inglis Drever, and Baracouda - are responsible for nine of the last twelve winners of the race. Nonetheless, they did have plenty in common aside from being multiple World Hurdle winners.

Age: Every winner since 1987, and every winner bar Crimson Embers since the race changed to its present format in 1972, has been aged six to nine. Crimson Embers was eleven, like Big Buck's, and was winning for the second time having previously scored as a mere whipper snapper aged seven.

Recent form: Seventeen of the last twenty World Hurdle winners finished first or second last time. Two of the other three finished third, and one finished fourth. All of the last sixteen winners were returning to the track within three months. Of the handful (14) absent for longer, they've failed to make the frame between them.

Rating: Of the dozen World Hurdle winners since 1997 with an official rating, all bar Anzum in 1999 and Solwhit last year were rated at least 157.

This would give us a trends shortlist of At Fishers Cross, Rule The World, Zarkandar, Annie Power, and More Of That.

World Hurdle 2014 Form Preview

The market is dominated by two horses with serious question marks over their chance. Big Buck's, as mentioned, is eleven, and has raced just once in the last sixteen months. That was a game third place in the Cleeve Hurdle and it might be argued that he performed admirably to finish so close after such a long absence. It could, however, also be argued that he had a hard enough race that day after the long break.

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Most pertinently from my perspective, it can be argued that he ran some way below his best. There will be plenty of sentimentalists who want to back Big Buck's, and he unquestionably retains a chance in a race that he's made his own in recent seasons, winning on each of the four times he's contested it. But the price does not allow for sentiment. Not one bit.

While the sponsors' quote of 5/4 is offensive in any language, the more sensible 2/1 generally available is still not even remotely tempting. Sure, Big Buck's can win. And he's one of those lads you'd be happy enough - or at least grudgingly accepting - if he nutted your pick in a photo.

The other market leader is the unbeaten Annie Power, whose winning streak now extends to ten. What it does not extend to is a victory beyond 2m5f, and that in a three horse dawdle. Will she stay? Probably. Will she stay and win at Championship pace? Possibly. Is she any value at 5/2? Not really. Although there is a further question - will she even run in this race (she's also quoted in single figures for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle, the latter of which she's odds on 'with a run') - that is mitigated by the non-runner no bet concession widely available.

It's hard to quantify the level of ability of horses yet to be beaten, and she's won by clear daylight in each of those ten races. But... she does have to prove she will stay, and that's enough - just - to ensure this scribe looks elsewhere.

So if that's the top pair with questions to answer at short enough prices, where does the value lie against them?

At Fishers Cross is the third market choice - just - and is also the choice of Tony McCoy for his guv'nor JP McManus. At Fishers Cross was unbeaten in six races last year, including the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grade 1  Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival. He's a horse that has had well documented back problems, and they seemed to plague him in the early part of this season.

But, after a break, his last run - in the Cleeve Hurdle - was much better: a staying on short head behind shock winner Knockara Beau. At Fishers Cross would have won in another stride, and was staying on stoutly, an ideal attribute for the World Hurdle.

Just three-quarters of a length behind was Big Buck's but, if At Fishers Cross' back issues continue to be managed, I can't see why the form will be reversed. The latter is progressive at just seven years old and the former is surely on the wane now, aged eleven. 6/1 is a solid enough play.

Next come More Of That and Rule The World at around 8/1. More Of That has had just the four runs, winning all of them, and has progressed into a very promising horse. He was last seen three months ago, however, and although the form of his two length defeat of Salubrious in the Grade 2 Relkeel reads well enough, that's a long absence to defy. Moreover, he has to prove that he sees out this longer trip. It's possible that he'll improve for it, but he'd need to. As progressive as he undoubtedly is, that combination of time off and unproven stamina is enough for me to overlook him, especially as Tony McCoy has done likewise. A lovely prospect, all the same.

Rule The World has been first or second in eight of his ten career starts, and won five of them including a Grade 2 and a Grade 3. But... all his winning has been on a soft surface, and almost all of it - a facile maiden hurdle win aside, when he likely totally outclassed his opposition - has been in small fields. He ran his best race, though, when second in last year's Neptune to The New One, and his low key prep has been geared totally to the World Hurdle.

Rule The World has improved from race to race this term and, if the ground is soft, I think he'll have a good chance in what looks to me to be an open race.

It is quite hard to believe that 10/1 shot Zarkandar is only seven years old, as he seems to have been around for a good while. Paul Nicholls' charge is a model of consistency, with twelve of his fifteen hurdle runs finishing in gold or silver medals. He's a triple Grade 1 winner too, including the Triumph Hurdle of 2011, and has finished fifth and fourth in the last two Champion Hurdles.

The step up to three miles is taken on trust, as with a number of his rivals but, unlike some of them, he acts on any ground. It is easy to envisage Zarkandar running a nice race, but - for me, at least - it is hard to see him out-staying all of the field, especially if nemesis Annie Power shows up (she's beaten him comprehensively twice already this season).

It's 16/1 bar those, which brings in Noel Meade's Monksland. That trainer's lamentable record at the Cheltenham Festival (2 from 87 since 2003) is widely known, but of more concern must be the 440 day absence Monksland bids to overcome. Surely not.

Of the remainder, Fingal Bay would be mildly interesting at 25/1 or bigger. He won nicely on his first start after fifteen months off and didn't look to have a hard race there, so any fears of the dreaded 'bounce' (when a horse runs poorly on second start after a long break, having run well in a battle on that first run back) should be unfounded. There is a more pertinent question regarding whether Fingal Bay is anywhere near good enough, and connections have another option in the Pertemps. Should he line up here, that would be a positive sign, and non-runner no bet allows for absence.

Quevega is quoted around 6/1 in the betting, but she'll surely go to the Mares' Hurdle if over a recent slight setback, so she's ignored.

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

The 2014 World Hurdle is a really tough race to unravel with so many if's and but's. It is not a race I will be piling into, and I cannot recommend any horse with confidence. However, I do feel the top of the market looks a bit suspect and, consequently, I'm happy to take a couple against Annie and Buck's.

At Fishers Cross showed far more of his previous zest last time out, implying his back problems have been resolved. If he gets to the Festival in the same physical form, then he can be expected to improve a notch or two on that last run, which might be good enough.

If the ground is on the soft side, and at time of writing (2nd March), it's still too early to say (though the official line is soft currently), then Rule The World comes into it. He's a relentless galloper who would benefit from as much mud as possible, where others may struggle to get home in such conditions.

World Hurdle Selection: At Fishers Cross 6/1 BetVictor NRNB
World Hurdle Alternative: Rule The World 8/1 SkyBet BOG NRNB

Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Double Dutch

Double Dutch

Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Chris is taking a well earned weekend off, and so it's me (Matt) in the chair for a couple of days. No joy on Friday, so let's look with fresh eyes towards Saturday's excellent fare.

Yesterday's results were as follows:

Atlantic Roller : 3rd at 13/8
Tornado Bob: 4th at 3/1 
---------------------------------
Electric Qatar : 2nd at 11/4
Shawkantango : 3rd at 3/1

Results to date:
127 winning selections from 448 = 28.35%
41 winning doubles in 120 days = 34.17%

Stakes: 238.00pts
Returns: 248.04pts

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P/L : +10.04pts (+4.22% ROI)

Here's Saturday's suggested play:

12.55 Doncaster:

A cracking novice chase featuring 2012 Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, and four unexposed exciting sorts in opposition. Rock On Ruby has been a stable star for Harry Fry, a man who has a 31% strike rate since taking out a license in late 2012. Compare that with Nicky Henderson's 24% and Paul Nicholls' 22% and you can see what a staggering achievement that is.

The horse, for his part, was foot perfect bar one minor incident in a nothing race at Plumpton on his fencing bow. The thing I loved about that was how clever he was when getting in close, and that - allied to his obvious speed as a former Champion Hurdler - will stand him in good stead here. 6/4 could look a smidge generous by ten-past-one.

Of the rest, though I fear a few, the one I like is Valdez, who looks a much better chaser than hurdler already. Rated 135 at his peak over timber, he's perched on 152 over fences after just two impressive spins. He likes the good to soft ground, and deserves to test his mettle in this better grade now. 4/1 looks about right.

*

3.35 Cheltenham:

The Cleeve Hurdle, and the return of Big Buck's. I'm actually sorely tempted to oppose the champ, on two counts. Firstly, he's having his first run back after 420 days off, and this is a hot race. And secondly, he's now eleven years old - was nine officially when last seen - and this is a hot race. Also, he's evens and this is a hot race.

But... he's eighteen from eighteen since 2009, and that's a monumental effort unparalleled by any horse, let alone any horse in this field. At the prices, I'm going to oppose him. You might not want to, and that's your choice, but I think he's too short in deep ground after a long layoff aged eleven.

Against him, I get two bullets, which helps, and I'm siding with Reve de Sivola and Boston Bob, though I fear a back-to-form At Fishers Cross too. Reve de Sivola loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles (as Peppa Pig's narrator might say), and he'll have his hooves caked in quag this day for sure. He's normally needed the run on seasonal debut so it was a fair enough effort when third to Celestial Halo two starts back. Last time, he showed the benefit of that run by putting ten lengths between himself and the decent Salubrious in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

His record on heavy is 211121 and there's a good chance of it being officially heavy by the time the tapes rise for the Cleeve, as it's tipping down on Friday night (as I write).

Boston Bob loves the mud too, and he looked very good when reverting to hurdles after a couple of bungled leaps over the bigger obstacles last Spring. The first probably cost him victory in the RSA Chase, and he has a second in the staying novice hurdle at the 2012 Festival too. That was on good ground, and on heavy (or soft to heavy) his record is 311111. He needs to improve on the bare form of his hurdling runs to date, but is capable of that, and 7/2 is reasonable.

4 x 0.5pt BOG doubles as follows:
Rock On Ruby / Reve de Sivola @ 11.5/1 (SeanieMac)
Rock On Ruby / Boston Bob @ 10.34/1 (Paddy
)
Valdez / Reve de Sivola @ 19.25/1 (Bet365)
Valdez / Boston Bob @ 
19.25/1 (BetVictor)

Trainer Stats: 15th Jan 2013

Mullins

122 Winners Already For Willie Mullins

Did you know Willie Mullins has already fired in 122 winners this season? He’s one of seven trainers on Andy Newton’s hot-list this week....... Read more

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The 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 1st Dec 2012

Can Carruthers win back-to-back Hennessys?

It's Hennessy Gold Cup day at Newbury this Saturday, while there's also LIVE C4 action up at Newcastle... Read more

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Have the Hobbs Horses Turned A Corner?

With just days now till the tapes go up on the 2012 Cheltenham Festival see which trainers are heading to Prestbury Park in top form. Read more

Monday Mish Mash: The Pre- Cheltenham Banquet Weekend

The Giant Bolster storms to Cheltenham victory

The Giant Bolster storms to Cheltenham victory

It was a weekend where the headline writers and Cheltenham executive got their prayers answered. Hurricane Fly and Big Buck's proved themselves every bit as good as when last seen, and both ready to defend their hurdling championships come middlemarch.

Elsewhere, dreams were shattered for many (Baby Mix, Broadbackbob, Unaccompanied), reinstated for a few (The Giant Bolster, Midnight Chase), and rudely awoken by harsh reality for those who probably already knew their fate (Tidal Bay, Diamond Harry, Poquelin).

So what are the pointers to take from a bumper weekend of top class action on both sides of the Irish Sea, as we look inexorably towards Cheltenham and March's Festival?

Let's take it from the top...

The opening juvenile hurdle promised to inform us on the Triumph Hurdle hierarchy but, in the end, served only to confuse and bewilder. Grumeti was the winner, albeit via the stewards' room, from a Nicholls' 'fourth string', Pearl Dawn under Ruby Walsh.

Pearl Dawn was brought into the race with a finely timed run, and bested his more famous rival by a short head at the line. However, in so doing, he'd cut across the second and, in the eyes of the stewards, caused enough interference for them to reverse the placings.

Personally, I always struggle with these situations, as when Jacqueline Quest was denied victory in the 1000 Guineas. But I defer to those who know, and am assured that justice was done.

In any event, the fallout for me is this:
1. A horse that has only actually come home first in one of three hurdle events shouldn't really be favourite for the Triumph. Yes, he was unlucky when he fell; yes, he was 'cruelly' denied victory on Saturday. But... winners win. No excuses. Not for me.

2. Paul Nicholls now knows exactly where he stands with his juvies, and the one he unleashes in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton will be the one to be on.

3. Baby Mix ran no sort of race. Pulled too hard, jumped terribly, and gives serious instability to the form here.

I'd be very surprised if the Triumph Hurdle winner ran on Saturday, and even more so if it was at Cheltenham.

Next.

Bless The Wings was an exuberant winner of the novices' handicap chase, and if he jumps as well in the Centenary Handicap Chase (or whatever it will be called this time around), he'll have chances.

But he cannot expect so many of his rivals to throw their chances away with careless errors, and this effort will cost him his attractive handicap mark for sure. He'll likely run, and run well, in the Centenary, but something - probably trained by either Venetia Williams or Ferdy Murphy - will have hidden their light under a bushel better.

The next race saw one of the most taking performances of weekend where taking performances were a theme. The Giant Bolster has been called many things, mainly in relation to his 'can't jump, won't jump' attitude. However, a pre-race interview with his owner revealed that much schooling work had been done, and the name Yogi Breisner was uttered. The jumping guru has clearly worked his oracle once more, as The Giant Bolster was almost foot perfect, despite the intimations of commentator Richard Hoiles that he bungled half of them.

I thought Hoiles was extremely unfair to TGB, who did make one error in an electric round of front-running fluent leaping. At the line, he's put seventeen lengths between himself and the rock solid 2,5f Cheltenham chase yardstick, Poquelin, who ran his usual 'honest as the day is long' race.

Poquelin was spotting TGB a stone or thereabouts, but it would be hard to argue that the verdict would have been any different off level weights. Indeed, level weights is how they'd match up were the Ryanair to enter the Cheltenham conundrum. There is, though, one small issue with that: The Giant Bolster isn't entered in the race!

I'm not sufficiently up on whether a horse can be entered later at a premium but, if that is the case, then surely this is the route for him, rather than the Festival Plate. That latter race is a handicap, in which he'd highly likely lug top weight, plus he be in amongst twenty-five rivals and would struggle much more I feel to get the lead he so relished here.

Under similar circumstances, TGB is a horse to follow. He's likely to clout a few fences in any quest for glory, but this effort - in a very fast time - marks him out as an extremely talented beast.

Poquelin for his part can be expected to make a bid in the Ryanair, but he's gone there in far better form in seasons past and been seen off comprehensively. He's one of a number for whom the writing looks to be on the wall.

And then came the feature of the day. Captain Chris, Tidal Bay, Diamond Harry, Midnight Chase and the rest. Gold Cup trip. Proper trial. Sort of (no Irish, no Kauto Star, no Long Run, etc).

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Captain Chris has inexplicably been favourite all day, despite being the most obvious non-stayer since I contemplated running a marathon. In the event, it wasn't stamina that scuppered him but bizarre jumping. To my untutored eye, he jiggered his back and was rightly pulled up.

None of this was of any consequence to Midnight Chase, a beast who adores Cheltenham like I adore Guinness. He got out in front, and stayed out in front. Leaping from fence to fence, allowing Little Josh to get close but not too close, and then kicking on from the turn in.

Tidal Bay was his closest challenger but never threatened to usurp the Prince of Cheltenham Chases (but not the King, alas for connections). Today was a day when connections of Captain Chris, Tidal Bay and Diamond Harry must all have called time on their Gold Cup aspirations, as they were found wanting to a rival who only finished fifth in the Gold Cup last year.

Midnight Chase himself will try to make all in the showpiece in six weeks time, and he'll give punters a bloody good run for their money, without I fear ultimately troubling the judge. Great performance, all the more so for carrying not just my cash but also the combined weight of the Stat of the Day followers fortunes!!

But still there was much to follow on a card that had more players than an amateur dramatics convention. It was the turn of the staying novices next, and Broadbackbob - from the Henderson yard - was a very warm order. Unbeaten in two lesser events prior to lining up here, he jumped a little stickily in places, and was never going to be Batonnier, a horse who has been faced by stiffer competition than his shorter priced rival.

Batonnier traveled very well off a strongish pace, and looks a contender for either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett, whichever trainer Alan King fires him at. Of course, in those contests he may have to face either or both of Fingal Bay and Boston Bob, and those will offer a more robust challenge that Broadbackbob.

Hurdling retained centre stage as one of National Hunt racing's greatest stars, Big Buck's, strutted his stuff once more. Taking his unbeaten sequence to fifteen, he provided a few heard in mouth moments for punters who traded their fours for some ones (his odds of 1-4), especially the William Hill player who reputedly cashed a £256,000 wager.

Fair play, but you'll never get the stains out of those trousers!

In the finish, it was plain sailing, but there was at least a half furlong after they'd turned in when it looked as though BB might not quite get to Dynasyte, who ran a stonker.
Dynaste looks a strong contender for the World Hurdle podium, but with Big Buck's and Oscar Whisky in opposition, it's a tough ask for him. And it's impossible for any sane individual to suggest that there is a horse in training who can beat Big Buck's in the World Hurdle if he runs his race.

And it was hurdling to conclude the card as well, with a competitive looking handicap hurdle. There were also at least two dubious rides in here, but let's deal with the winner first.

Tom George's Module ran on very well and landed a few nice bets in the process, on his first UK start. I think he's come over from George's satellite yard in France, and he knows what he's got when it comes to comparative form between France and UK. (I wish I did!)

But it's the horses in behind that I want to talk about. Firstly, Hinterland - a short enough favourite - was never put into the race by Ruby Walsh. He still had eight horses in front of him at the final hurdle and did well to finish third.

I'm convinced he's being aimed at the Fred Winter, and this was a most definite handicap-protecting performance. It will be instructive to see if the handicapper takes the same view as me, and mullers the horse's mark as it deserves to be after this non-trier effort. If he doesn't, I'll be supporting him in the Fred Winter, for sure.

The other dodgepot was the winner's stable mate, Sivola de Sivola, who was given an 'eye-catching' ride to finish fourth. Again, there are Festival hurdle events (the County, most likely) for which he may well be attractively perched. He's one to keep on side, as he is clearly capable of significantly more than he showed here. Connections will have been delighted!

********

Elsewhere on Saturday, Menorah actually endeared himself to me more by falling than by winning up at Doncaster. As perverse as that may sound, this chap has a characteristic that the very best two mile chasers have: he hurdles his fences.

I recognise that might sound a bit ridiculous, but if you look at the record of the likes of Moscow Flyer and Big Zeb, you'll see that the big IF heading into Cheltenham for them was actually their form figures of 1F1F.

Am I saying Menorah can win the Arkle? Well, yes and no. In my opinion, like those two fine beasts (only one of which won the Arkle, Big Zeb having been kept at home a while longer), Menorah conserves energy in the style of an Arkle winner, and he has plenty of top drawer track form over hurdles (Supreme Novices' winner, Greatwood Hurdle winner, etc).

The fact that he's now a longer price means I'm taking a saver on my Al Ferof / Peddlers Cross investment, and the only horse that can beat me - I believe - is Sprinter Sacre. For reasons I've outlined elsewhere, I'm prepared to let that happen.

In Ireland, the Mullins bandwagon rolled on as Sir Des Champs continued his winning ways over fences. True, it was a relatively weak race. But he won 'like an odds on favourite should' as Thommo would unfortunately say, despite not being an odds on favourite for this contest (he was even money).

This was the son of excellent sire Robin Des Champs' sixth win on the bounce. That sextet includes the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle at Cheltenham as a novice, and two Grade 2's over fences. Clearly, he's a player over this sort of trip and deserves to be close to favouritism for the Jewson Novices over the same distance - though different obstacles - as the Martin Pipe.

He's a horse that is impossible to crab from a Cheltenham perspective, with Festival winning form, and a progressive profile both before and since (he was heavily backed that day at Cheltenham). 8/1 is about the best you can get and, if he's being fired at this race, that's a price to be interested in. I say 'if' because he probably has RSA and handicap options as well.

Surely, though, this is the optimum trip for him at this stage of his career. He's a horse that, should he continue to progress, might present himself as a Gold Cup candidate next season. Very exciting prospect.

The Boylesports Hurdle on the same card was a belting race, and was won by a good horse in Citizenship... But for Cheltenham punters, the 'juice' was in behind. I'm not entirely sure where in behind, but true form students will be looking for those beasts who raced out back, and stayed on to a midfield finishing position... especially if trained by a wily fox.

Here's a couple who could be of interest from a County Hurdle perspective: Peak Raider (never nearer than ninth and from a plotting stable in Thomas Carberry), Plan A (fourth in last year's Fred Winter, ran a nice trial here).

********

Sunday at Leopardstown was the most eagerly awaited affair of a very bright weekend of jump racing. Despite a horribly soggy afternoon, the return of 'The Fly' was well enough subscribed. The precipitated upon punters were not to be disappointed, but there was sport both before and after that, as I'll now relate.

First up, it was the turn of the novice speed fencers in the Irish Arkle. Flemenstar fair dotted up in the style of a good horse. His problem is the irritating feeling that he beat a lot of beasts which ran in the style of bad horses.

The Irish Arkle hasn't thrown the winner of the British Arkle for many a moon - Moscow Flyer was the last - and I'm afraid two good miles in a ppeat bog does not translate well to the undulating road of Cheltenham's unofficial good to firm on Cheltenham Tuesday... Flemenstar is clearly talented, but I'd not even consider him beating the others I've mentioned higher up this post... even if he runs (which he probably won't, for the self same reason mentioned - state of the ground).

As if the weather couldn't have got any worse, at just about Chinese dentist appointment o'clock (tooth hurt-y, oh dear), a Hurricane blew into and out of Leopardstown.

This was the big day and, after eight months, there were plenty of negative vibes about 'needing the run'. 4/7 opening show soon became 4/5. Like the horse knew! He absolutely murdered them in the most disdainful of ways, and is going to be plenty hard enough to beat in the Champion Hurdle.

In truth, the form is questionable, with clear chief danger, Unaccompanied, putting in a rare stinker. Regular readers will know the affection I hold for this mare, and yesterday was not her running. Not even close.

Oscar Wells was next best, despite his connections suggesting conditions would not suit. That lends itself to the prospect that this wasn't as good a performance as it looked.

Here's what I think from a punting stance: whilst I'd struggle to oppose the Fly, I couldn't possibly countenance wagering him at between 4/6 and evens. The Robin van Persie of racing (brilliant when fit) still has to get to the West country and, if/when he does, he's unlikely to be much of a shorter price.

If you can get non runner no bet, treat yourself if you like. Otherwise, wait for the day.

Let me repeat: he won this running backwards, and it is very hard to crab the effort. But he is a fragile horse and this form is open to question, due to the state of the ground and the limp effort from the clear second market choice. Caution advised.

Finally, on a weekend of saliva-spraying sport, Boston Bob's game win in the Grade 2 was almost unheralded after his stable mate sent all the journo's scurrying for the 'hold the back page' hotlines to the headlines.

But this was an attritional display from another Cheltenham contender. He was asked to scrap, and he was happy so to do. I do find it difficult to quantify this performance in the context of either of the Cheltenham novices, and I'd love to see him race so well on a sounder surface. If he can, and he faces off against Fingal (Bay), then that will be a tumultuous tussle, to be sure.

I am now approaching spontaneous combustion when it comes to the Cheltenham banquets of middle March. And if the last few weekends have been mostly uninformative, then this one has fair spurted Festival fancies forth. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrringiton!!! 😀

Matt

p.s. I'm away for the next fortnight (training in Newmarket this week - not as a jockey! - and skiing in Bulgaria next, so please be patient if you try to contact me. Neither place is blessed with abundant wifi... 🙁    )

Sat TV Trends: 28th Jan 2012

Did you know that the last eight Sky Bet Chase winners ALL carried 11-2 or less? Andy Newton is on hand with all the trends that matter ahead of this weekend's LIVE C4 action. Read more

Monday Mish Mash, featuring ‘Oh Deer’

Binocular: Champion Hurdle 2012 prospect?

Binocular: Champion Hurdle 2012 prospect?

A shorter than normal Monday mish mash today, but some bits and pieces to 'edutain' nevertheless, I hope. In this round up, I'll offer my thoughts on the weekend racing; share a VERY funny video; and, add a date for your diary if you live in or near London.

So, let's crack on.

The weekend racing featured plenty of Graded action from both Newbury and Newcastle, and the highlights were the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Hennessy Gold Cup chase, recognised stepping stones to the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively.

But what did we learn? Let's look first at the Fighting Fifth.

As predicted here, the 5/4 favourite, Binocular, was beaten. He's run in this race three years in succession, been sent off favourite three years in succession, and been beaten three years in succession.

But let's be clear: that didn't stop him winning the Champion Hurdle at the end of that first season; and he was close to favouritism for the race when dramatically withdrawn last season (due to drugs still being in his system).

So, as I mentioned, I backed him after his defeat at 16/1 with Boylesports, the best price available. That is now a standout best price, and most bookies - who know the rhythm of the horse - have him as 12/1 or 14/1.

Binocular ran well in truth, and if you watched the race, you'll not that he was given a hand ride. In other words, there are MUCH bigger fish to fry than this Grade 1 (which is probably a little unfair on the Newcastle racecourse executive, but I hope they know what I mean).

Of the winner, Overturn, he is teak tough. He'd won from the front in a hard enough race at Ascot last week when Oscar Whisky fell at the last, and he won from the front again here.

I can't remember a Champion Hurdle winner prevailing from the front, however, and the undulations of that track are in sharp contrast to the flat expanses of both Ascot and (relatively) Newcastle. He's a good stick, but I couldn't entertain him winning the Champion.

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In the Hennessy Gold Cup, we were looking for a horse to emerge as a threat to the top of the Gold Cup market. Alas, it didn't really happen. Carruthers, a very good horse without being top class, won under an expert piece of pace judgment from Mattie Batchelor. Mattie used to ride Night Orbit for us, and he was atop one of the rides of last season, when he got up on Baggsy (another in which I owned a share) in a selling hurdle at Towcester. He deserves some better chances, and with luck he might now get them.

Carruthers has finished 4th in an RSA Chase and a Gold Cup, but he was a well trounced 9th last season, having bungled his chance away early on.

He did blunder a couple of times early here too, and that's the cause for concern, as in the Gold Cup there's no let up from the start. If he could get straight into a rhythm and not concede ground/energy by jumping errors, he could conceivably make the Gold Cup frame with this looking for all the world like a transitional year at the top of the staying chaser tree (Long Run excepted).

Of those in behind, this looked more like a trial for the Ryanair than the Gold Cup, with Planet of Sound and Great Endeavour possibles for that contest. Neither fully stayed this trip here and, at the more testing Cheltenham track, I'd have doubts about them getting home.

The Giant Bolster wasn't beaten far in 7th, and this chap surely needs a return to hurdling. His jumping is horrific as form figures of 1F1UF-4U7 testify. IF'fy indeed. I'd be very interested if he were to line up in a Graded hurdle over three miles or so, but he continues to be opposable over fences.

The other interesting race was the Long Distance Hurdle, in which Big Buck's was 1-8, but didn't win as those odds suggested he ought to. He did win however, and it's likely that the team have much to work on between now and his likely next engagement, the Long Walk Hurdle over the same course and distance.

Whilst I'm in no way predicting the downfall of Europe's pre-eminent hurdler (it will happen, inevitably, but not yet), this was a slightly lacklustre effort, and would have given some hope to connections of the likes of Mourad and So Young (who I backed at 20's with Boylesports - still available, as short as 12's with Paddy Power).

We'll know more when we see him at the end of December, as I'd expect him to be close to concert pitch by then.

Not much to report elsewhere, with Paul Nicholls' other pair of Newbury winners, Prospect Wells and Rock On Ruby, looking good but not great. Both have engines and may be suited to Cheltenham but I'd be surprised if the former was good enough to be Champion Hurdle class, while the latter only served to advertise the Supreme Novices' prospects of Steps To Freedom, who looks interesting at around 10/1.

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Onwards, and just a quick line to tell you that if you live in or near to London, and fancy that you know a thing or two about racing, there's the London Racing Club Christmas Quiz on Wednesday 7th December.

The challenge is to knock ATR's Barry Faulkner's team off their perch, and it's a tough challenge indeed! It's free and full details are on the below link:

London Racing Club Christmas Quiz Night

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And finally, to cheer up what might be an otherwise unsavoury Monday for you, this was something I was sent last night, and sent by someone else again. It's gone viral pretty quickly, and just shows how much we enjoy other people's misfortune.

Oh deer....

Matt

p.s. You can check out today's stat of the day here. Also, there's an international racing round up, and news of Sir Peter O'Sullevan.

p.p.s. If you've got facebook, and you liked this post, don't forget to 'Like' it using the button below. It seems, simply liking stuff isn't enough any more, you've got to tell others about it too! 😉

Saturday TV Trends

Nicholls Eyes His Fourth Hennessy

Can Paul Nicholls land his fourth Hennessy Gold Cup this Saturday? We look at all the TV races from a trends & stats angle......... Read more

Trainer Stats – 3rd Nov

See which trainers are heading into this weekend at the top of their game as Andy Newton picks out eight handlers that have caught his eye in recent days, while there’s a big NH yard that are now almost a month without a win.............. Read more

Alleged Stakes 2011 Review

Unaccompanied has St Nicholas Abbey and the rest well beaten off

Unaccompanied has St Nicholas Abbey and the rest well beaten off

It was fantastic to be back in Dublin last weekend for the first time since I managed a team of developers over at Park Gates on the other side of Phoenix Park, for the geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes.

Not only was this my first (and possibly last) foray into race sponsorship, but the race was also blessed with one of the most talked about horses of recent years, St Nicholas Abbey. Champion juvenile after hosing up in the Racing Post Trophy of 2009, St Nicholas Abbey had just the one run last season when sent off the impossibly short even money favourite in the 2000 Guineas.

He ran well enough in sixth, beaten just three and a half lengths by Makfi. But of course he was expected to take the mantle of the amazing Sea The Stars as the greatest race horse for a generation. (That impossible burden is borne by Frankel this year - good luck to him!)

And then.... nothing. St Nicholas Abbey suffered a 'muscle problem' prior to the Derby which led to his being scratched from the race, and then a late attempt to get him back to the track before season end was again scuppered.

So it was to much anticipation that the Ballydoyle A-Lister made his seasonal debut, and he was sent off a red hot 4/11 chance to make it a triumphant opener. He was reportedly 80% fit for this and, as you'll see in the video below, he was blowing through his pipe after the contest. There's no doubt St Nich will come on a ton for this, if he runs again.

But he was up against a very nice sort in the mare who finished second in the Triumph Hurdle a couple of weeks ago, Unaccompanied. She is a beautiful beast, and I had the honour - and straightforward task - of awarding her 'best turned out'. This really was simple. She was head and shoulders the paddock pick to even my untutored eye (and my other, slightly more tutored eye!)

They went down, loaded up and came back in the heavy ground. Unaccompanied ran them ragged and was never in danger of being defeated. She paid 4/1 and will have offered little salvation to bookies who must have taken a caning on the day. St Nicholas Abbey was six and a half lengths back in third, with the unheralded Cillium running a PB to separate them.

After the race, the difference between the winner and the third - in terms of their demeanour and how much they were feeling the prior exertion - was as strong a contrast as you'll see. If you're ever at the races and want to know which horse will improve most from this run to their next, take a look at the example below. Poor St Nich looked like me after I finished in the gym this morning (although I'm not expecting to come on very much for the run!)

Your first 30 days for just £1

Then there was the presentation, and my moment of fame, such as it was. The lady who shared the podium with me was the very lovely Eva Maria Haeftner, head of Moyglare Stud, and heiress to a billion dollar fortune. It's not every day one gets to kiss a billionaire three times! 😉

Incidentally, in an excellent piece by the excellent Nick Mordin, he alluded to Aiden O'Brien's woeful record with seasonal debutantes in big races. Specifically, O'Brien has won with just one of his thirty pattern race runners that he's brought back off a break longer than seven months in March or April over the last fifteen years. That sole winner was in a five runner Listed race by a head.

Moreover, it's Mordin's contention that St Nicholas Abbey was 'tying up', which apparently is akin to getting a stitch only more pronounced. Mordin questions whether St Nich will ever get back to top form again. Personally, whilst I can see the argument, and despite my statements in support in the video (where I question whether St Nich will be retired now), I suspect he will come back a fitter, sharper horse next time.

But I'd be loathe to pile on in a Group 1 or 2 race for now.

The day concluded with me finally breaking a run of bad luck that has stretched out over four weeks, with a decent bet on Samain in the bumper series final, and a more decent bet on Torphichen in the concluding handicap, both of whom won as they wished.

It was a cracking day at the Curragh, and we were very well looked after by Evan, Trish and Collette, so my thanks to them. Whether I'll be able to get the geegeez.co.uk name back up in lights next year remains to be seen. Sponsorship is not cheap, and early indications are that it wasn't hugely effective. Nevertheless, it was great fun and I feel truly lucky and privileged to have been able to represent our little website community on such a grand stage.

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Just a couple of quick lines to close today. Firstly, I need your applications by midday tomorrow (Thursday) if you want to be considered for what I'm calling my PEER3 business training.

To remind you, I'm looking to work with a very small group of people who already have a business that is making sales, with the objective of taking things to the next level. If that's not (yet) you, then please hold fire this time, as I might have something more appropriate in the near future.

If that might be you, then do please take a look at the video over at mattbisogno.com and fill out the short no obligation form beneath if you're interested.

Last shout is midday tomorrow if you'd like your business to be considered.

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Finally, you'll be aware that the Aintree Festival starts tomorrow. It normally feels a little bit like 'after the Lord Mayor's show', but this time around we're kicked straight into life with Big Buck's vs Grands Crus, followed by the Triumph Hurdle first vs third, then the Denman show, and finally Wishfull Thinking vs Medermit.

It really is a top, top class first day's racing from Aintree, and I'll have much more news and views on the meeting tomorrow. I'll be heading to the track on Friday for Ladies Day (which I'm very much looking forward to - haven't been to Aintree since Rough Quest won way back in 1996, when I was a poor student), but will get my posting out before I go, and be back in good time for some Saturday opinion as well, in case you have access to your computer on weekends.

That's all for now - I'm off to study the form for Aintree!

Matt

p.s. who do you like in the big races tomorrow, and of course, THE big race on Saturday? Leave a comment and let us all know where we should put our money. 🙂

Hennessy Weekend Review

Festival fancies and frozen Folkestone's farce book-ended the weekend's limited action, dear reader, and I've cast my scrutinous beady over the proceedings to sort the genuine Cheltenham contenders from the fish in red clothing...

Given the severity of this ludicrously premature cold snap, Newbury performed some sort of minor miracle in staging both Friday's and Saturday's race cards (as well as Thursday's) as much of Berkshire shivered and shuddered through the first covering of the winter.

But in amongst all the hype around the Hennessy and the newbies noted in novices, were there Festival candidates on display? And, if there were, which ones were they? Read on, and see what I reckon...

Finian's Rainbow for the Arkle?

Finian's Rainbow for the Arkle?

Casting our minds back to last Thursday, Nicky Henderson unleashed high class hurdler Finian's Rainbow for his chasing debut in a warm looking novice event. Despite being up against just two rivals, the outsider Hell's Bay was already rated 143 over fences. Finian's cruised through the race and won on the bridle as he liked. However, he did make a couple of pretty shabby errors on the way round and his trainer will be at pains to improve the Rainbow's fencing prior to his next start.

Finian's Rainbow's long-term target is the Arkle, a race which perennially comprises a small field. 12/1 seems reasonable enough about a horse which is likely to be Henderson's first choice in the race, and about whom he said, "It's almost certain we will stay at two miles, the Arkle is there. I hope he's top class."

Although we haven't seen nearly enough of Finian's Rainbow to know whether he's the best horse for the Arkle, I'd be very confident that he'll be much shorter on the day should he line up. He's already just 8/1 with Ladbrokes (always the firm I look to first), and that tells me they're running scared of Henderson's hotpot.

In the Grade 2 Worcester Novices' Chase later on the Thursday card, the terrible news that high class novice Tell Massini was fatally injured cast a cloud over both the form and the story of the race. Objectively looking beyond that sad event, the winner Aiteen Thirtythree was always going to be a better fencer than hurdler, and perhaps had the best of his duel with the ill-fated Massini when that one came down in any case.

Aiteen Thirtythree was way too good by the line for next best, Voramar Two, with decent stick (137-rated) Swincombe Rock miles behind. A typical Nicholls / Barber massive-engined grinder with a touch of class, Aiteen Thirtythree is quoted as low as 12/1, and a general 16/1 for the RSA Chase.

Whilst he looks tailor made for that contest, Nicholls said afterwards that they'd be concerned about the 'hustle and bustle' of such a race, and wanted to bring him on more slowly, perhaps with a tilt at next year's Hennessy in mind. With two more chase runs under his belt between now and Cheltenham, I suspect that connections might change their minds, but at the price I'd be inclined to leave him alone from an ante-post perspective. (I like my ante-post bets to be specifically targeted at the races I'm wagering them in, where possible!)

For those brave enough to wager in the Champion Bumper before Christmas, more fool you! On a more empirical note, Balding Banker was a mightily impressive winner of the flat race on Thursday, coming far away from the rest of a fancied field and, with big margins between each finisher, the merit of the performance looks extremely robust. Of course, it remains to be seen what the horses in behind do next time out, but Henderson had two well backed beasties (one of them odds on), and Alan King had a nice looking recruit in second.

As I say, it's waaaay too early to be thinking about the Champion Bumper, but this must have been the smartest run seen so far this season in that sphere.

Friday's card opened with the unmistakable aroma of singed digits all across the Berkshire expanses as 1-4 favourite, Dolatolu, turned a 23 length winning margin at Sandown into a 27 length losing margin here. In truth, there was zero pace in the Sandown race the jolly had won and, with a quicker tempo here, he was found wanting plain and simple.

I'd be loathe to back the runner up at 33/1, and the winner, Smad Place, looks too short at 10/1. True, he won easily. True, his vanquisher on his final run in France, Taikanous, has gone on to win a nice pot in a chase race and looks a horse of real class (will we see him here in a year or two?).

Alan King: incredible Triumph Hurdle record

Alan King: incredible Triumph Hurdle record

But 10/1 is too short in a race that rarely has a favourite shorter than 4/1, or a field shorter than sixteen runners. Alan King has an exemplary Triumph Hurdle record and this may be his best prospect after the ill-advised (by me!) plunge on the stable's Franklino (0 from 2 so far...).

It's possible that the Triumph Hurdle winner hasn't even been bought out of a French paddock yet!

The Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase over 2m4f featured another odds on favourite, and again the odds were rolled over, this time literally as well as metaphorically, when Spirit River came down at the eleventh of sixteen fences.

Sent off a 10/11 shot, Nicky Henderson's Coral Cup-winning hurdler from last year's Festival was doing things nicely enough until getting one line hopelessly wrong and giving Barry Geraghty no chance of hanging in there.

The winner was Cois Farraig, who toughed it out from Celestial Halo, the former Champion Hurdle second and fourth. The Halo is a classy enough beast, but his resolution generally fails close inspection and he'd definitely not be a wagering proposition for me in top company.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Whilst I have to salute the steel of the winner, I don't for a moment see him as a credible contender for novice chase honours and, at this stage, there'd have to be a big question mark about which race he'd run in. (I believe they're introducing a new intermediate distance novice chase between the Arkle's two miles and the RSA's three plus).

Onto Saturday, and a card whose jewels shimmered as much as the Newbury ground staff shivered in the early morning frosts. Newcastle's luckless abandonment saw the prompt re-routing of their prized asset, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, down to Reading way to add further sheen to an already impressive afternoon's sport.

As it turned out, the Champion Hurdler, Binocular, gave best for the second consecutive year in this contest, going down fairly tamely and under only mild urging from Tony McCoy. This was not his best, and he will of course improve for the run. That he is now a bigger price for Cheltenham should make Binocular more appealing to punters, not less, as this stop-start gallop on dead ground will hardly have played to his strengths.

Peddlers Cross a Champion Hurdle contender

Peddlers Cross a Champion Hurdle contender?

Be all that as it may, we can take nothing away from the winner, who will also not have been favoured by the totality of conditions here. Peddlers Cross is now unbeaten in all six of his starts, the last four of which have been in Grade 2 or higher company. He looked to have a lot to do in order to repel the waited with Starluck, who has strengthened up since last year and traveled beautifully through the race.

But, when push came to shove as it inevitably does, Peddlers was always holding the runner-up. In fact, watch the replay, and you might notice that on three or four occasions when Peddlers Cross saw Starluck get within half a length, he just accelerated away a little more.

Despite the moderate gallop, I'd say the form is strong, and I think Peddlers Cross now represents a serious challenge to Binocular's Cheltenham crown. With a best price of 6/1 now on Peddlers, and as big as 5/1 offered on Binocular, if you're not already on the former, the smart play may be to side with the latter.

As things stand in the Champion Hurdle market, the race is shaping up in rather magnificent fashion. We've got unbeaten 'could be anything' types like Peddlers Cross and potentially Cue Card, next to proven winners like Solwhit, Hurricane Fly and Binocular, with further spice added from the likes of Menorah and Silvianaco Conti. Bring it on! 🙂

The next of the Cheltenham winners to step up to the plate was long-standing champion staying hurdler, Big Buck's. He had a new pilot this day, with A P McCoy taking over from the injured Ruby, and the recalcitrant old monkey (BB, not AP!) was extremely well behaved for his first time baby-sitter. For all that he could do no more than win, and win well enough, I have a niggling doubt that old Big Buck's is not quite the horse he appears to be...

If there was just some sort of credible challenger in the staying hurdle ranks. Alas, each year, horses who are too slow for the Champion Hurdle tend to favour a chasing route to glory.

Let me put it this way: quotes of 4/6 for the World Hurdle are hardly exciting from an ante-post play perspective (I'd want that on the day if he remained unbeaten this season and there were few likely dangers!). If any of Long Run, Quevega or possibly Grands Crus turned up in the race, I'd be inclined to take them at a price over the Big Buck's. Whether they'll instead go for the Gold Cup / Ryanair, Mares Hurdle, and something else respectively, remains to be seen.

Denman: no introduction needed

Denman: no introduction needed

Onwards, and upwards. A Hennessy of vast interest. Not just the usual exciting array of second season chasers bidding to bridge the battle-scarred no man's land between novice and top class ranks, but also the presence of a certain lovable, venerable, belligerent, doughty old boy in Denman. Is there a grander stamp of chaser in training right now?

I mean, forget the class of Binocular or Kauto Star, forget the speed of Big Zeb and Master Minded. Look at the raw power and will to win that the senior citizen, the veritable Chelsea pensioner, Denman exudes.

Of course, the race record shows Denman finished third. It also shows he gave the best part of two stone to both Diamond Harry and Burton Port when beaten around fifteen lengths here. Denman was his usual robust, honest, reliable self, and - forgive the sentimentalist bluster momentarily - cemented his place in my mind as my favourite chaser of the current generation.

I just much prefer his Gennaro Gattuso mentality over Kauto Star's Francesco Totti-esque

Gattuso: The Enforcer

Gattuso: The Enforcer

Prima Donna: Totti

Prima Donna: Totti

demeanour. I love his never say die attitude. He reminds me of me in some small way, and I salute all triers everywhere! 😀

Parking my affection for one of racing's waning stars, what of the aspirant waxers? Diamond Harry headed the charge at the business end, but there were many fancied in the pre-race market.

Perishers included Pandorama, who was hampered early but still should have shown more; Neptune Collonges, whose long-awaited return was terminated prematurely as he was brought down by the bungling Madison du Berlais; and Weird Al, who finished eighth of the ten completers, a mile back from the sharp end of the race.

Just as one swallow a summer does not make, nor does a single blip equate to a winter of discontent for these under-performers. However, the proverbial leap of faith is required before parting with readies on their respective next top drawer outings. Neptune was unlucky, in fairness, but the others have it to prove if they're to raise their game sufficiently to get serious with the big boys.

Up at the vanguard, and as predicted, the Gold Cup market had a little shake with Messrs Harry and Port (Diamond and Burton to give them their forenames) elevating their market positions as a result of their 1-2 here.

The winner, Diamond Harry, jumped brilliantly and I suspect couldn't have done more than he did here. He may have looked like there was something left at the end, but my suspicion is that he was all out.

When Burton Port learns to go over fences, rather than through them, he's going to be a phenomenal staying chaser. And indeed he's the one horse in this race that I'd consider has any kind of serious chance of challenging in the Blue Riband on Cheltenham Friday in March. He just bungles and clouts and otherwise disregards the impediments in his way.

By rights, Burton Port should have come down at least twice in the Hennessy. Stiff fences they are at Newbury, but they are no more lenient at Cheltenham and he's got to sort that out. If / when he does, he's got a serious engine and - unlike many pretenders to the Gold Cup crown - Burton Port stays (and stays and stays). Another fifty yards and he might have won on Saturday.

Funnily enough, as a consequence of the to'ing and fro'ing at Newbury in the Hennessy, our hope - Sizing Europe - has now been cut by a few more firms. The 33's I tipped the wink for was no more than 25's by lunchtime on Friday and, whilst there's still plenty of that price around, it's interesting (and possibly instructive) to note that Ladbrokes have now sliced him into a 16/1 chance.

Oh, the joys of an ante-post portfolio! Paper profits aplenty, but which - if any - ticket can we cash?!

A fine card at Fairyhouse was snowed off on Sunday and, with it still coming down outside here now, it looks like it might be a while before we see any more National Hunt action.

In the meantime, Geegeez Racing Club favourite, Always De One, gets a start this afternoon at Lingfield (12.45). It's a two miler, which is a lot further that Always has run so far, and Shelly - trainer Julia Feilden's daughter - has just her fifth public ride (having been a champion pony racer previously).

The truth is the partnership has a lot to do, but in a weak race with very little recent form to go on, she might sneak a place at an each way price with the stable in form.

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Finally, the ten nominees for BBC Sports Personality of the Year have been announced and, unsurprisingly, Tony McCoy is one of the ten. I'm doing my bit to try to help Tony win, by starting a facebook fan page on the subject.

Now I don't really understand very well how facebook works, but if you're on that social networking site, do please 'Like' the Tony McCoy page. The more 'Likes' we get, the more 'Likes' we will get, such is the manner of facebook (as I understand it).

CLICK HERE TO SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION FOR AP McCOY'S BBC SPORTS PERSONALITY CREDENTIALS

Tony McCoy for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010

Tony McCoy for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010

That's all for today. If you have a view on the weekend action, or on how to use Facebook (!!!), please leave a comment below.

Matt