Catch Up


Geegeez Catchup

A quick Geegeez catch up of all that's been happening today. I've got news on Fantasy Football, my weekend with someone you might know, an update on the ante-post front, and something hot to look out for tomorrow.

Firstly, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in South Wales with my great mate, Gavin Priestley, from NagNagNag and Festival Trends, as well as his lovely lady and young Dylan, my godson (oh, and Gavin's son!).

And great fun it was too. We went to watch Cardiff vs Scunthorpe on Saturday afternoon - a slightly dour 1-0 home win, where the likes of Bellamy and Bothroyd threatened more than they actually delivered in the game. Before that though, we'd seen the incredible scenes from Newbury.

Now much has been written about this elsewhere, and I don't intend to spill too much virtual ink on the subject. I will however say this. There can be no case to answer for horse racing on the matter, as it was - quite simply - a terrible accident that could not possibly have been foreseen (based on the current perceptions of what did occur).

Such an incident could just have easily transpired in a school, or an office building, or a church. And we should be thankful for the small mercy that it was 'only' two horses that suffered the ultimate sentence.

Everyone is shocked (absolutely no pun intended) by what happened, and it will be remembered for a long time as one of the most bizarre things to happen anywhere in sport, not just in racing. It is simply impossible to mitigate for such a freak occurence. Onwards and upwards for racing.

After the game on Saturday, it was off to Penarth's finest balti house for some ruby tucker, before the big 'G1 Jockey' showdown on the Wii. Lest you don't know (!), G1 Jockey is a horse racing game where you ride the virtual nag. Having once had the misfortune to ride a real horse (terrible experience fronted up by classic pedagogic schoolmistress whose preference for animals over humans was crystal clear), I can tell you that the pixelated version was a quantum leap easier. Thankfully.

I managed to win a couple and lose a couple, with set up my bravado for the big Scrabble grudge match against my host, Gavin. Now Gavin and I are both acceptable Scrabblers. Not excellent, far from rubbish. I may know a few more words than Gavin (and he may contest that), but I've always thought of him as a slightly better 'tile tactician' - he plays the board very well.

That slight divergence of core strength generally makes for close - and hotly contested - encounters, and of course the exchange of some currency to spice things up a tad more!

Saturday's head-to-head was as one-sided as I can remember, however, with the first game going to me in a relatively tight 28 point verdict (or £5.60 as I like to say, converting my lead into cold cash at 20p a point!)

The second game was what's known in the trade as a drubbing. He won't thank me for saying this, but Gavin gave best by fully 106 points (or £21.20 for cash). Worse, far worse, than the financial transaction was the humiliation of that heavy defeat. Indeed, I wonder if Gavin has yet been able to sleep after that crushing loss. Sorry mate! 😉

Sunday saw my turn for a crushing loss, as young Dylan handed me a lesson on the console. This time the medium was Fifa 11, a football game. If riding horses on Wii is far easier than the real thing, this felt a good bit harder as my random all fingers and thumbs assault on the contorted hunk of plastic in my mitt bore little resemblance to the actions of the pixels on screen.

The long and short of it was that, after a brief and false dawn when I went 1-0 up, there were seven unanswered goals - one for every year of his age! - scored by Dylan. I don't need to tell you how much he enjoyed that!

Just time for a spot of luncheon with the team before the murderous Sunday afternoon drive back to Geegeez Towers. It rained the whole way, the visibility was awful, the traffic was murderous, and five hours later we arrived home. Poor old Mrs Matt, who was doing the driving.

Still, it was well worth it for an excellent weekend with Gavin and the clan.


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Incidentally, Gavin had put up what I considered to be an excellent shout as an ante-post horse for the Gold Cup. The events of the last three days have seen that nomination look inspired, as first Kempes - the horse in question - won the Hennessy Gold Cup in grand style on ground he would have hated, and then my own Sizing Europe was removed from the declarations for the race, meaning that ticket can be recycled...

Kempes was 66/1 when Gavin backed him. He was the same price when I checked last week. I meant to have a cheeky each way bet. I didn't. He's now a best priced 16's, and most of that is gone. He's generally 12's and 14's and, in what I believe is a wide open year, that could still represent some value. I've certainly had a bit of 'after time' action on him.

There was little else of note on the ante-post front, aside from another disappointing defeat for hype horse, Zaidpour. It's hard to see him winning off the back of two reversals, whatever excuses connections may cite. Also, Solwhit - another small ante-post tickle on my part - has been extracted from the Champion Hurdle betting, with the World Hurdle apparently a likelier target.

Oscars Well (Zaidpour's vanquisher) and So Young, both winners in Ireland last weekend, have been backed in the Neptune Investments Hurdle, and now vie for favouritism with Bobs Worth. I'd backed So Young at 12's after he romped home over Christmas on his hurdling debut, and he's still yet to be asked a question in two facile wins.

So Young is targeted at the Neptune, so at this stage I might actually get one running for me! However, easy wins against moderate opposition are somewhat different from earned victory against top class animals. So Young may have lots of scope for improvement, but he'll need it as he's yet to pass a rival of import.

Another loss as favourite for Mikael d'Haguenet, who continues to demonstrate one or both of the following. Either a) he cannot jump fences, or b) he is simply not the horse he was before injury. In either case, I would go nowhere near him over the larger obstacles. He's still in the World Hurdle, and that's the place I'd be inclined to send him. Ditto Punchestowns who scraped home against League One opposition last week to give Nicky Henderson his 2,000th winner.

Another Irish winner at the weekend, Unaccompanied, has taken second spot in the Triumph Hurdle betting almost by default. There seems to be a real dearth of prime contenders for this prize this year, and that is illustrated best by the fact that Grandouet - the ante-post favourite for the Triumph - is also the ante-post second favourite for the Fred Winter Handicap (an event which is like the consolation race for juvenile novices).

I've had too many goes at trying to get a live one here - and seen too many horses subsequently trade at longer prices than my ticket shows - so I'll accept that I have Third Intention and Sam Winner running for me, and cheer them accordingly. That race may very well set the Friday placepot up for a big payout.... IF you can get through it.

Just four weeks to go now... 😀


Finally, a couple of points of order on the football front. First, a very late update on the Fantasy Football League which over 150 of you joined at the start of the season.

Having been top of the pile for a number of months, Richard Halliday's Diegoforlanova has slipped back a bit to 8th spot. And, as we head into the key period of the season, one manager has opened up a tidy 70 point advantage on the field.

Step forward, John Spencer. His 1,506 points is an impressive haul and good enough for 3,945th spot outright (from a total entry of 2,408,331!).

As things stand, it looks like the prizes will be heading to John. His closest pursuants are Kerry Davies, Dean Bentley and Colin Metcalfe, all of whom are within ten points of each other and 70-80 points behind our leader.

At the other end of the table, the strongest player in the league (propping up all the rest, hoohoohoo) are Kevin McGuigan's 'Sons of Pitches'. Nice name, naff team Kevin! 😉 741 points is not enough for even half of the leader's score, and is good enough for 178th position! Must try harder...

Me? You want to know how I'm doing? Not very well is the succinct answer. More specifically, I'm buried about a third of the way through the field in 64th spot with 1,239 points.

Getting back to the meat of the matter, can anybody catch Mr Spencer. It's unlikely but far from impossible. Let's hope for a tight finish yet.


And, before I go today, I want to tell you about a special footy service I've been tracking for some time. In fact, I've been tracking it since it started. It has been ultra-consistent and highly impressive in that time. Alas, it has also been off the market.

And it still is... that is, unless you're a reader of Geegeez! I've managed to persuade the guys behind it to open up, just for a few days, and just for Geegeez (and my other websites) readers.

The service has QUADRUPLED its bank since the start of the season, which is four times as much money whatever stake size you use! We're putting the finishing touches to the special page right now, and I'll have more news on this tomorrow morning.

But you'll need to be pretty quick, because I've only managed to get the guys to offer this until the weekend when the backdoor will be locked up again.

So do please look out for an email from me tomorrow at around 11am.


Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2011 Preview

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

The first race of the Cheltenham Festival 2011 is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, run over two miles and a half furlong, for horses aged four or older. In recent seasons it has been dominated by the Irish, so it is interesting to see that this year's ante-post lists contain a proliferation of British-trained horses at the head of affairs, with just the occasional Emerald Isle interloper.

Perhaps this presents an opportunity to find some value, and to give us a flying start for the toughest, funnest, bestest, four days racing anywhere in the World. [Hyperbole? Actually, no, I don't think so...]

Last season's Supreme winner, Menorah, bucked a couple of pretty strong trends, with his victory coming off the back of a runner up finish the time before and also given that he was trained in the UK.

Let's take a look at the Supreme Novices' key profile angles, and see if we can't pare down the ante-post lists to a likely candidate at a fat, juicy price to give us a ticket on which to weave a dream of a winning start to the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

First up, I mentioned a couple of points in relation to Menorah: the Irish have dominated in recent years, bagging seven of the last ten runnings of the Supreme Novices. And, eight of the last ten (and twelve of the last fourteen) Supreme winners won last time out.

If we extend the last time out performance to previous winners' entire hurdling careers at that stage, it's interesting to note that seven out of the ten had never been out of the first two. That stat includes Menorah. So we might very well say that we're mostly interested in a last time out winner, but we'll consider runners up if they've never been out of the first two.

Five and six year old's rule supreme in the Supreme. Although Captain Cee Bee won as a 7yo in 2008, and Like-A-Butterfly as an 8yo in 2002, only five horses older than six or younger than five have claimed the Supreme Novices' glory since 1974.

A really interesting point - at least, I think it's interesting - is that half of the last ten winners had never won better than a Class 2 novice hurdle and, whilst there's a hatful of last time out winners claiming the spoils in the Supreme, only one horse - Brave Inca in 2004 - actually won a Grade 1 event last time out. In other words, I suspect that the Supreme Novices Hurdle is typically won by a horse who has been brought along gradually; one undoubtedly with more potential than it has thus far demonstrated; and, consequently, one which usually pays a better odds multiple than the favourite (who is normally the horse with the best public form).

Eight of the last ten winners had between two and four runs over hurdles, with one of the exceptions - Go Native - having had five hurdle starts in 2009. Too bad for Toubab, then, who has already had six starts, and actually only managed to win one of them.

Perhaps lending some credence to my 'hiding their light under a bushel' notion is the fact that, perversely perhaps, nine of the last ten winners of the Supreme Novices have failed to run a previous Topspeed figure above 126. Whilst it is obviously harsh to penalise a horse for performing to a higher level, this does suggest that each year the winner runs a good bit faster than they previously have.

Moreover, horses who have shown only slow races prior to turning up at Cheltenham on a Tuesday in mid-March, do not win the Supreme. The Topspeed bracket for winners' previous best speed figure has seven of them in a range between 107 and 126. For the purposes of this study, I have elected for a range of 105 to 130.

On the other hand, Racing Post Ratings have more clearly pointed to the potential of Supreme Novices winners, by recording a rating of 137+ against the names of eight subsequent winners prior to their Cleeve Hill success. Indeed, seven of those eight had notched a 143 or better.

Stallions preclude no runners, with an even split of jumps and flat sires amongst the last ten winners. But Irish bred horses hold the upper hand, having grabbed seven to UK bred runners' three wins in the last decade.

An interesting sidebar on breeding is that Frenchies have a moderate (at best) record, with just the exceptional Hors La Loi III (subsequently Champion Hurdler) winning for the French-bred's from 42 starters in the last fourteen years. He was a 9/2 chance...

My penultimate pointer is that ten of the last eleven Supreme Novices Hurdle winners had their final prep race within 45 days of lining up at Cheltenham. Given that there are currently 48 days until tapes up in the Cotswolds, I'm expecting the winner to have another run between now and then.

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Finally, and as a neat enough segue into this year's contenders, let's remind ourselves of the abominable record of Cheltenham Champion Bumper runners in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. I researched this last year when pondering the case of early 2010's Pegasus, Dunguib (where are they now?!).

He won the previous Champion Bumper in a similar fashion to Cue Card's rout last March. At that time, I mentioned that only Montelado had won both the Bumper and the Supreme Novices, making him the only horse ever to have won back-to-back Cheltenham Festival races. Of course, the Bumper is no longer that last race on the card, so Montelado will hold that unique position in history forever.

Casting aside the anorak momentarily, the material point in all this is that Montelado, way back in 1993, remains the only Bumper winner to have won the Supreme. AND... only Back In Front has joined him from the full casts of the previous year's Cheltenham Champion Bumper. Of course, these stats are made to be broken, but I'd be very cautious about piling into Cue Card at best odds of 5/2 in light of the above.

So, to the rest of this year's contenders and how they shape up against the profile we've created. It should be clear that there are currently more question marks in this puzzle than your average university entrance exam, and the ethereal nature of this conundrum is akin to the proverbial attempts to nail jelly to a wall. That's why those generous bookie types are still offering 14/1 bar two in the race! 🙂

Cue Card is a standout form horse at this stage, but may not have as much improvement as others (may not need any improvement). But... he is up against the Bumper stat. And... he might still go for a different race. And... he's highly unlikely to be shorter on the day given his unfashionable connections and the strings of 1's adorning many contenders' form lines cometh the hour.

So, politely decline the Cue Card for now, with a view to possibly taking a 3/1 saver on the day, should he turn up. (Remember the clamour to 'give Dunguib away' last year? Many bookies would pay you back if Dunguib won - I'm sure there will be some doing likewise this year).

Next in, and the only other in single figures is Ireland's leading light - according to the odds board at least - Zaidpour. He's a Frenchie, which doesn't preclude him from winning, but does put me off, given their weak overall record. He's done little else wrong, being beaten a fag paper in a muddling race last time, and he's entered in the Deloitte Novices, a Grade 1, on February 6th.

He'll be around 5/1 for the Supreme if he wins that, and both Brave Inca (2004) and Like-A-Butterfly (2002) won that prior to Supreme Novices glory. Still, I'm looking for value with so many unanswered questions at this stage, so my quest continues, into the deeper double-digit depths of the oddsmakers.

The third choice with some books is Backspin, who ranges from 12's to 14's where offered. On Betfair, he is a 45 shot, which bears reference to the fact that he's probably going to run in the longer Neptune Investments' hurdle. Apart from that, all his wins have been in slow times, and his Grade 1 victory may actually count against him in the context of the Supreme. No thanks from this quarter.

The Neptune may also be the preferred destination for Rock On Ruby, and indeed Minella Class as well.

This leaves Hidden Universe as the only other contender in the top six in the betting more likely to run in the Supreme than the Neptune. On that score alone, Skybet's 14/1 may appeal. Factor in his trainer's 'softly, softly' approach so far and he's tempting. But... he ran in last season's Champion Bumper, and he's yet to reach the requisite speed and form figures, albeit off just the one hurdle run.

Hidden Universe has two entries later this week, which will tell us more about the horse. On the basis of what he's achieved, his current price seems to factor in quite a lot of what he might be projected to do going forward. So, reluctantly, no thank you.

From the chasing pack of potential protagonists emerges Spirit Son. With just two runs, one of which was in France, he 'could be anything' (couldn't they all?!). Nicky Henderson has a pretty poor record in this race in recent years, and hasn't won since Flown in 1992, despite saddling plenty of fancied runners (including Binocular, Khyber Kim and Oscar Whisky in the last three years).

And he's a Frenchie with their accompanying poor record, and he's got more to prove on the ratings - which he likely will do.

I could go through the top 22 in the betting with cases for and against (as I have done in the document at the bottom of this post), but you might be getting bored of all this dessert decoration (jelly-nailing, if you prefer), so let me cut somewhat belatedly to the chase and tell you who I like at the prices and with all foregoing caveats in situ.

Prince Of Pirates, a Henderson inmate, was traveling as well as the leader, Al Ferof, when that one fell at odds on last time, and won cosily up Cheltenham's hill on his only hurdle start so far. As a McManus-owned horse, you can expect money for this one on the day should he line up. A possible but 33/1 is only fair in my view (57 on the Betfair site).

Gibb River may be yet another Henderson hoss, but he's had a very covert preparation so far. Two wins in Class 4 big fields at short prices offer hope that he's got more in the tank, and I'm very keen to see where he turns out next. The 25's generally (44 Betfair) looks worth a speculative couple of quid, as he's likely to be half those odds if winning next time.

Extremely Tentative Selection: Gibb River

Below is the 'working out', and below that, my current ante-post portfolio.


Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Open Office Document - download Open Office free here.]

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Excel file]

Ante-Post ups and downs...

Ante-Post ups and downs...

Master Minded still the one to beat in Champion Chase

Master Minded can still win the Champion Chase

Master Minded can still win the Champion Chase

Master Minded fans may have had a shock on Saturday, when the Victor Chandler winner's lead was diminished to a disintegrating short head by the line, but the Paul Nicholls-trained eight year old is still the one to beat in the Champion Chase come March. Or so I reckon.

Let's consider the facts. Firstly,  Master Minded won the race. Okay, he looked like he'd win by as far as he liked after Petit Robin fell and severely hampered Kalahari King (more on those two in a moment). Granted, he was all out to prevail by the narrowest of margins as they smiled for the photo finish. And of course, Somersby would have won in another stride.

But the Ascot race is a furlong further than the Cheltenham race. And the ground on Saturday was on the soft side of good, which it is unlikely to be come March. Master Minded is probably losing a yard of that brilliant speed he possessed earlier in his career (indeed one idiot on here - me, I think it was - suggested he might be a throwaway bet for the Gold Cup. Suffice it to say, I've thrown away that throwaway voucher!). For all that, he retains plenty and, bar the second horse, the remainder were seen off by twenty lengths and more.

The runner-up Somersby is both consistent and frustrating. Consistently frustrating, one might say, if one keeps backing him. Clearly, he has huge talent, as podium positions in five consecutive Grade 1 and 2 contests testify. As a reliable punting proposition, he's a swerve for me though. I mean, even his trainer doesn't know what trip he wants and reckons he's a monkey... sorry, I mean a difficult horse to ride and train.

She, Henrietta Knight - trainer of Best Mate and Edredon Bleu, no less - said, "I was really pleased with him as he is not the easiest horse. We were so sure that we wanted the Ryanair but after today's performance he showed that he is still able to hold his own at two miles so we might go for the Ryanair next year now."

In other words, we don't know what trip he wants and he's a bloody nightmare to train. That is of course excessively harsh, but where my equine investments are concerned, I'm generally looking for a combination of greater certainty about ideal conditions and a bigger price than the 10/1 which is the best of the bookies' odds.

Mad Max was third, and well beaten, seemingly without excuses. 40/1 for the Champion Chase is about right, I'd say, though again it wouldn't tempt me. I can't see how he could possibly reverse this form, and a place is as good as it can get for this chap.

Kalahari King could be the surprise in the Champion Chase.. if he runs

Kalahari King could be the surprise in the Champion Chase.. if he runs

Fourth home was the desperately unlucky Kalahari King. Now, let me place on record my distaste for 'unlucky' horses. Unlucky horses tend to lead to unlucky punters and, if you want to do your dough, keep following a small herd of unluckies... But don't come crying to me.

Kalahari King was not only unlucky, but he has been excessively well-touted as unlucky too. This means that everyone says 'he was unlucky'. Watch the race, and you'll see that - just as he was beginning to make his run from off what looked a strong gallop - Petit Robin decided to ground Geraghty and then swerve violently left.

In so doing, he very nearly carried Kalahari King off the course (easy for me to say!), and fair stopped him in his tracks. His resolution in re-rallying all the way to the line has led many, including connections it would seem, into believing the Ryanair is the optimum route around Cheltenham's Grade 1 action in March.

I don't agree, but then I don't own, train or otherwise contribute to the wellbeing and financing of the horse. I wish I did! For me, he's an ideal type for the Champion Chase, having finished third in the race last year off a single prep run; and second in the Arkle in 2009.

Further, the only time Kalahari King has won beyond 2m1f is when he scraped home in a Musselburgh novice chase two years ago. Hardly Ryanair-winning form, I'd conjecture. But, what do I know? Well, I know this. I would back him if I thought he was running in the two miler, and I won't be backing him in the 21-furlonger.

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Petit Robin had a lot made of his fall, because he was going well at the time. They were a bloody long way out, and he's never beaten Master Minded, so I've no idea why people would believe that Saturday was his day. He wouldn't have beaten Kalahari King, or Somersby, or Master Minded, in my opinion.

Of those who were absent on Saturday, Big Zeb has some strong rivals to contend with but won't have been unduly bothered by Ascot's leading actors. Woolcombe Folly is unlikely to be good enough, though he has an excellent win strike rate; and Sizing Europe is not yet a confirmed starter (my Gold Cup wager means I'm hoping he runs in the longer race - he's also in the Ryanair, further muddying the waters).

So, in summary, if you liked Master Minded for the Champion Chase before Saturday, there's no reason to change your mind now. The fact that he's skidded out to 11/4 with Ascot's big race sponsors, Victor Chandler, just means you'll get more jam on your bread if you're right.


Hopping across the pond, as one can so very easily metaphorically do, Sunday's Leopardstown card had some excellent action and some mixed news for the Bisogno / Geegeez ante-post portfolio.

Hurricane: The Fly in the Champion Hurdle ointment?

Hurricane: The Fly in the Champion Hurdle ointment?

The big race of the day was the Irish Champion Hurdle where, in one of the most predictable finishes for years, Solwhit finished second to Hurricane Fly for the fourth time in their last five starts! Solwhit was beaten eighteen lengths by Binocular in last year's Champion Hurdle, and has never been beaten more than three and a half by Hurricane Fly.

Despite the apparently facile nature of the Fly's recent small margin victories, it is notable that he has either won easily or not won. In other words, he might be truly exceptional. But he doesn't look to relish a fight, and it is almost impossible to entertain the Hurricane blowing all-comers away to such a degree that he doesn't need to battle up the hill. Moreover, he has yet to travel to Britain to race, and that is a significant negative in the context of the Champion Hurdle, about which I've pontificated at length elsewhere.

In summary, Hurricane Fly may not have as much in reserve over Solwhit - let alone Binocular and co - as might appear at first glance. His lack of UK racing experience and fragile limbs mean if you really want to back him, you should probably wait until the day of the race. And if you're me, you will be looking for one (or two or three) against him.

Hurricane Fly might be brilliant, and win the Champion Hurdle in a canter. I'll be betting against that eventuality.


Elsewhere on the Graded stakes card, there was a win for Realt Dubh, who just got the better of Noble Prince in a head-bobber for the Grade 1 Arkle Novices' Chase. Having backed Noble Prince (£100 at 25's with Bet365) for the Cheltenham Arkle, I was quite pleased with this performance.

Whilst Realt Dubh is a very good horse and, probably so is the faller Flat Out, Noble Prince is in there pitching and should give a good account of himself at Cheltenham. He should also go off somewhat shorter than the 25's I've secured and hopefully than the best priced 20's he is currently (only 10/1 with Paddy Power, who believe the Irish have a strong hand in the 2011 Arkle).

More adverse weather as the Cyclone blows 'em away

More adverse weather as the Cyclone blows 'em away

The Grade 2 novices' hurdle over 2m4f had still more promising news for the portfolio, as Hidden Cyclone (backed at 46 for £12 for the Neptune, and 95 for the same stake for the Supreme) reverted to winning ways, with a bit in hand. Despite bungling the last he was comfortably too good for Ballyhaunis and the rest.

He's a best priced 20's for the Neptune Novices at the Festival, but trainer Shark Hanlon sounded the alarms when he warned, "I'll have to talk to the owner Pierse Mee about Cheltenham, if he goes he'll probably go for the Neptune Investments but I wouldn't be keen on going. If he got cut in the ground at Cheltenham I wouldn`t mind going but he wants cut in the ground."

Thanks Shark! Not...

Lastly, in the opener on the card, it was another notch for last season's Cheltenham Champion Bumper, as Day Of A Lifetime sauntered home in the opening maiden hurdle. He'll be tilted at bigger pots now and has the Supreme Novices Hurdle as a Festival target.

I'll be back tomorrow with an ante-post look at another of the major Cheltenham Festival races, so stay tuned for that.


Cheltenham December Meeting Review: Festival Pointers

Racing at Cheltenham is rarely anything other than top class, dear reader, and the weekend just passed was like a 'mini Festival' with so many trainers keen to get a run into so many horses when they'd normally try to avoid meeting each other prior to the March meeting.

So what did the action tell us, aside from the fact - pointed out to me numerous times - that Faasel is not quite as reliable a stick as I'd envisaged. Trying to explain to people who simply want winners the concepts of value and the long term benefits of using trends can sometimes be pointless. So, to those who just want winners, sorry but you'll not find any guarantees of that here on any given day.

But for the vast majority of you who understand that if you generally take 14/1 about  horses that start at 11/1 (as Faasel did), you'll come out in front.

Onwards. What did we learn at the Cheltenham December meeting? We learnt the following:

1. Spirit River is a hurdler. He hates fences, and has now fallen on both attempts in novice chase company. Anyone who takes the 20/1 with Betfred (or even the 33/1 best price with William Hill) wants their head examining. As it stands, he must be half those odds to even line up in this race, given his high class form over the smaller obstacles. And running in a 2m5f race is a curious preparation for a two mile championship contest, in any event.

Reve De Sivola

Reve De Sivola - not one for the mortgage...

2. Reve De Sivola is not one to rely on for a Cheltenham win. Despite taking the novice chase that Spirit River fell in, this was his first victory in seven attempts at the Cheltenham HQ of jump racing. The horse to take from the race was probably Wishfull Thinking, who finished a length and a bit behind RdS,  having been badly hampered by fallers on the way round.

Wishfull Thinking would have appreciated a bit more pace as he travels very well, and he might make up into an interesting contender for a race like the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual which, these days, is the last race of the Festival I believe.

3. Midnight Chase not only has a touch of class, he also has some guts to back it up with. I had expected the weight and the slightly stiffer competition in the Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Chase to find Neil Mulholland's charge out on Friday. But he proved me wrong in fine style. Despite lugging more lead than all bar the increasingly apathetic Neptune Collonges (should be retired probably, or sent hunting at least), he had a great time of it out in front, gradually raising the tempo under a spot on Dougie Costello ride, to overhaul the only horse who dared to challenge his front-running rate, Presenting Forever.

The second horse was in receipt of seventeen pounds from the winner, and they were strung out like Christmas fairy lights behind. Whether this was a Gold Cup-challenging performance is a moot point, as the horse should be considered on his (and his connections') merits to date in my opinion. I will say this though: I feel quite strongly that this is a changeover year in the Gold Cup hierarchy, and as an eight year old there's likely more improvement in Midnight Chase than any of Imperial Commander, Kauto Star or Denman. There will need to be!

4. Al Ferof may take a while to get over his tumble. Second behind Cue Card in the Cheltenham Bumper in March, Al Ferof made his eagerly awaited hurdling bow in the last race on Friday. He received robust support in the betting exchanges, and cantered to the front before two out. He then proceeded to make a total horlicks of the obstacle, and took a nasty fall. Al Ferof obviously has lots of class, and a very high cruising speed.

Those two elements alone will win bumpers and other flat races, but you have to be able to jump if you want to get to the top of the National Hunt tree. I'd be wary of taking short odds about this chap until I've seen him put in a full round of jumping. Nevertheless, he remains a bright prospect with that caveat firmly in mind.

5. Woolcombe Folly may not be done winning yet. I took an interest in this one last year, when I hoped he'd run well in the Arkle. In fact, he ran a stinker at 25/1. Prior to that, he'd won his last five chases and hurdles races, and since then he's racked up another three victories, including two at Cheltenham - this being the second of those. He'll likely have an entry for the Champion Chase now. Having been available at 110 on Betfair last week for that race, I'm not too keen on taking the 10/1 now.

That said, if you can forgive his bad Festival run in March, there's a lot to like about this fella. While Master Minded, Big Zeb and co. may be a different kettle of kippers entirely, it's far from folly to suggest that Woolcombe will win again between now and the Festival.

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6. Sam Winner is by far the best juvenile novice seen so far. So far, being the operative phrase. Before you pile into the 9/2 best price, bear in mind that only one of the last seven winners of the Triumph Hurdle had run over hurdles in UK prior to December. Katchit was the exception, and five of the last seven winners were not seen on the track before this Wednesday's scheduled Newbury meeting.

Of the horses in there, it's Sam Winner's stable mate, Empire Levant, that looks the most interesting. He's unraced here, having won three and been nosed into second in a fourth contest in France, and has Sir Alex Ferguson as one of his owners... Of the other pre-entries, Rare Symphony was highly rated on the Flat and may be expected to perform well in the Newbury race and subsequently truncate in the betting for the Triumph. Although that's speculative in the extreme, it's probably a better option than 9/2 about the best novice seen so far...

Time For Rupert

Time For Rupert? It could well be...

7. Time For Rupert is the best staying novice seen out so far. Whilst juvenile hurdlers are generally brought late to the party prior to winning the Triumph, the same is not true of RSA Chase winners. Indeed, you have to go back to 1998 to find the last RSA Chase winner to debut over fences later than the end of November. That was Florida Pearl. In that context, Time For Rupert must have a favourite's chance as, with the exception of the long absent Mikael d'Haguenet, there's very few unexposed horses in the race.

Rupert's Cheltenham record is impeccable with three wins and two seconds from five starts. That the two second's were behind Tidal Bay and Big Buck's over hurdles, says a heck of a lot about the class of this chap and, despite the RSA being a race where outsiders have a good record, he's a worthy favourite and would be much shorter if trained by Messrs. Henderson or Nicholls.

8. Zaynar is a recalcitrant monkey. If you're still keeping the faith with former Triumph Hurdle winner Zaynar, you're either very patient or very stupid. Ahem. Either way, you're probably skint, as the horse is an absolute recalcitrant monkey. He's been beaten in his last five runs, four of them as favourite, including SP's of 13/8,11/8, and... wait for it... 1/14 (!!!!!) On that 1/14 day, there was a 'shrewdie' who got the 1/12, trying to win a hundred quid for an investment of twelve hundred. Pity for him, especially if he's been on a money-back mission ever since.

Quite simply, do not touch this horse. If he wins, fair play. But there's bound to be far more reliable propositions - at better prices - in his races.

Master Minded

Master Minded: Brilliant when he jumps 'em!

9. Master Minded is a machine. OK, so he was disappointing at the Festival in March, when only fourth to Big Zeb. But the balance of Master Minded's form is exceptional, including a facile win against a strong field in the re-routed Tingle Creek on Saturday. It was his first win at Cheltenham since the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2009 (two losses since), and the way he gobbled up the ground between the pace setters and himself turning in was mightily impressive.

He's no price for the Champion - 2/1 best and as short as 6/4 in places - and I just wonder if there's any chance of him running in the Gold Cup. As preposterous as that may sound (and may also turn out to be!), he's 300+/1 on betfair for the longer race, and that's a route that the same connections' Kauto Star has taken in the past (Kauto fell when 2/1 favourite for the Champion Chase in 2006, before winning the 2007 Gold Cup). With both Denman and Kauto Star celebrating their eleventh birthday on January 1st, and Master Minded due to be eight on the same day, he's clearly the future. Whether he stays that far is obviously the subject of conjecture, but stranger things have happened. I've had a throwaway tenner at odds of 323.26!

Talking of the Gold Cup, perhaps the best performance with regards to that was the staying-on third from Somersby. Also a staying-on second behind Sizing Europe in the Arkle last season, this boy seems to be crying out for further. He's quoted in the Champion Chase (two miles), the Ryanair (2m5f), and the Gold Cup (3m2f), and ante-post punters have to second guess connections as to which race he'll choose. For that reason alone, I couldn't advise a bet at this stage. But the way he finished here, you'd hope they'd step him up to at least the Ryanair trip.

10. Menorah is a credible Champion Hurdle contender. The Grade 2 International Hurdle was a fascinating contest, in that it brought together three horses of immense potential in Menorah, Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti. The latter two were unbeaten novices and putting formidable home reputations on the line. Both were usurped in unambiguous fashion by Philip Hobbs' Menorah, and he is rightly being touted as a strong Champion Hurdle contender.

Whilst I wouldn't back him at 7/2, or even the best priced 9/2, I don't need to as I already backed him at 27.34 way back when I advised him on here in August. Here's that post again. And here's my own position now:

Date Name Event Odds Stake Returns Bookie Win/EW
12-Aug Menorah Ch Hdle 27.34 £60.00 £1,640.40 betfair W
12-Aug Summit Meeting Ch Hdle 353.84 £5.00 £1,769.20 betfair W
12-Aug Oscar Whisky Ch Hdle 200 £6.55 £1,310.00 betfair W
12-Nov Cue Card Ch Hdle 21 £73.00 £1,533.00 SJ W
23-Nov Peddlers Cross Ch Hdle 15 £100.00 £1,500.00 totesport W
23-Nov Solwhit Ch Hdle 25.34 £25.00 £633.50 betfair W

So, whilst I'm very pleased with the ante-post position I have on the race (and I hope some of you followed me in), I do think much / all of the value has now gone and, if anything, Menorah and Peddlers Cross may be bigger prices on the day than the 4/1 and 6/1 respectively they are now.


Binocular: bizarrely, he's probably the best value in the race now

Solwhit remains interesting. He's 16/1 in a number of places and 10/1 in a number of places. That disparity is marked in a race such as the Champion Hurdle and indicates a real discord in terms of bookies' perceptions of the merits of his ability. He certainly has a level of form that is at least as good as what Menorah and Peddlers have achieved to date, and in that regard, he has a modicum of value in the 16/1 still available.

Ultimately, the best value in this race may now be with the reigning Champion, Binocular, who is surely too big at 5/1 with bet365. Sure, he got beaten in the Fighting Fifth, but he was beaten in that race last year. He was eased by McCoy once his challenge petered out that day, and he's sure to be MUCH more combative in March. The big question is will he win his next race and truncate in the market? Or will he go even longer? Either way, no horse this season has run to the level he did when winning last year's Champion Hurdle, so 5/1 must be at least fair odds on the repeat.

There are only three months to go now, and the storylines are blending in fascinating fashion for the next few chapters before the revelations of mid-March. It just never ceases to intrigue and excite! 🙂


p.s. Just a quick word on dear old Khajaaly, the Geegeez Racing Club horse, who won his second race in a row on Friday. He had to work a little harder than when dotting up at 25/1, and the odds were 'only' 3/1 this time (backed by many from 4/1), but he still did it cosily, and there may... may... be more in the locker. It's more than we dare hope for, but hope is most definitely what we have.

12-Aug Menorah Ch Hdle 27.34 £60.00 £1,640.40 betfair W
12-Aug Summit Meeting Ch Hdle 353.84 £5.00 £1,769.20 betfair W
12-Aug Oscar Whisky Ch Hdle 200 £6.55 £1,310.00 betfair W
12-Nov Cue Card Ch Hdle 21 £73.00 £1,533.00 SJ W
23-Nov Peddlers Cross Ch Hdle 15 £100.00 £1,500.00 totesport W
23-Nov Solwhit Ch Hdle 25.34 £25.00 £633.50 betfair W

8007/1 Treble That Got Away…

Khajaaly at Kempton

Khajaaly at Kempton

Doh! As Homer Simpson so succinctly put it, dear reader, I rather cocked it up over the weekend. It all started when the Geegeez geegee, Khajaaly, ran for the first time in 73 days, in an innocuous enough event at Wolverhampton...

To remind you, we bought Khajaaly in early Summer, and had high hopes for him. Alas, in his first three runs he seemed to be alarmingly regressive. Hindsight, being the wonderful thing that it is, clearly shows that poor old Khajaaly was feeling the effects of a hard season having had six races this year prior to our acquisition.

Three subsequent runs made nine in total and one knackered beastie. Step forward Julia 'The Judge' Feilden. Training horses is a game I will never know more than scraps about, and I am always happy to leave my affairs in the hands of people better qualified than me.

So, when Julia suggested some time off, I immediately agreed. Firstly, as I say, she knows infinitely more than me about the nuances and foibles of nags, and secondly, to be frank, I was at my wit's end in terms of what the hell to do with him!

Seventy-three days later and Khajaaly was ready to roll again. Julia, John and the team were all making positive noises about how he was looking, much fresher apparently. They said he was working well and, when I spoke to Julia on Friday morning, she said something she very rarely says.

Julia said to me, "I think he'll win today". In all the time I've known her (ten years), I can remember her saying that maybe four times. Once was when Spruce was backed off the boards (16's into 5/2) on UK debut and was beaten a fast diminishing head, prior to running up a sequence of four straight wins. Once was when Love's Design won a seller by FIVE lengths, and once was last Friday.

I told the members and backed him accordingly. All morning he'd been 10/1 and 12/1 with the bookies so I thought 18/1 on Betfair was great value. When he went 28/1 on Betfair I went in again. When he went out to 46 (!!) on Betfair I couldn't justify any further depth to my wager, so I let it ride.

He opened up 33/1 on course, before some of the Geegeez Racing Club members punted him into 25/1. To render an even longer story ever so slightly shorter, he cruised through the race and - though only winning by an official margin of half a length - he bolted up. The jockey had no need to resort to more than hand urging.

If you have Racing Post membership, you can watch the race here:

If you have attheraces membership (free), you can watch the race here:

When I spoke to Julia afterwards, using what very little remained of my voice, I must have sounded like Barry White with laryngitis. I was hoarse from yelling at our horse!

Anyway, Julia told me that Khajaaly had been working as well as Spirit of Sharjah, another horse in her yard, rated 97. Given that Khajaaly was rated 60, I wondered if this meant Spirit was no good or Khajaaly was flying. As luck would have it, I was able to find out on Saturday, when Spirit of Sharjah ran in a very competitive Class 2 handicap at Lingfield.

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He had an ugly 'car park' draw in 13 of the 14 runners, and I had a very small bet just out of interest. He cruised through the race in the same way that Khajaaly had done around 24 hours earlier and, although only winning by a short head, he too was value for more as the jockey only got serious in the last 100 yards after Spirit had trouble getting a clear run. He returned 10/1.

So, Spirit of Sharjah will now be rated 100 or so.... and our boy Khajaaly has been working alongside him! And he's going to be rated 65 or so! Of course, life is never as simple as first appearances suggest, so our ostensible handicap snip may well end up getting rolled over. But I have to say, in 0-65 company, I'd REALLY fancy him to double up. 🙂

[STOP PRESS: I've just heard that Khajaaly went up four pounds to a rating of 64. His next run is currently mooted to be Wolverhampton on 11th December, but that may change.]

As if that wasn't enough, Julia had one more - extremely unlikely - ace up her sleeve. Rated just 48 on the flat, and having her third run over hurdles, Baggsy had recorded eighth and tenth places in her previous two attempts at distance and obstacles. But one thing this daughter of Statue of Liberty adores is soft ground.

She'd run by far her best recent race on the soft at Yarmouth and it had come up soft again at a notoriously testing track, Towcester. This was a selling hurdle, and to call it moderate is to overstate the quality of beast on display. Baggsy opened up 40/1 and was backed into 28's at the off. I had two quid win and place, much more in token hope than any kind of expectation.

As the race progressed, Mattie Bachelor kept her out the back. For the first mile, it was hard to tell whether this was the jockey's choice or a necessity for the horse! But they went off too quickly for the grade and ground, and they came back. Oh boy, did they come back.

Baggsy never threatened to win until the last furlong but she still had five in front of her. Five yards from the line, she was still second, four yards from the line, she had prevailed. Amazing, and hope now springs eternal that in bad ground juvenile selling hurdles, perhaps over slightly further than two miles, Baggsy might actually win again!

Undoubtedly it was a red letter weekend for Julia, John and the team at Harraton Stables and, whilst I managed to back all three - to wildly disparate stakes - the 8,007/1 treble alluded me (and, I'm guessing, every other punter in the country)!

Onwards, and upwards!


On a completely separate subject, my sincere thanks go out to all of the 36 people who applied for my 'apprentice' position. In actual fact, it's more of a 'right hand man' role than an apprentice.

I'm not being flippant when I say the quality of the applications surprised me. I'd expected to have a couple of standout emails, from no more than a handful of missives in total

Wrong! It's fair to say that around two-thirds of the applicants would have been able to help me, and picking amongst them was tough and required an objective head.

Eventually, I managed to whittle down to five super candidates: three currently run websites that you may very well frequent; one ran a football forum for five years; and the fifth was a senior IT manager before a recent lifestyle / career change freed up much of his time.

I spoke with all five yesterday, and that did little to make my task easier! Today, I'm ruminating and will be in touch with the quintet tomorrow. It's been really inspiring to learn that so many people want to be involved in a more hands on capacity in the Geegeez community and, without sounding like too much of a 'happy clapper', I'm humbled yet again by what a fantastic mob you are. THANK YOU!


I'll be back later in the week with an ante-post view on the Gold Cup. Without spoiling the surprise too much, I'll say this. The last horse older than ten to win the Gold Cup was... What A Myth in 1969.Ten year olds do okay, but you have to go back to the Cool's, Dawn and Ground in the nineties to find the last winning horse with a double digit age.

Given that Denman and Kauto Star are both to be eleven on January 1st, and that Imperial Commander (currently sidelined with a minor injury) will be ten, and that the fourth favourite, Big Buck's is an odds on shot for the World Hurdle (and can't jump fences anyway), I make the race absolutely wide open!

Whether I can find the winner is a moot point for sure, but taking out the first four in the betting will certainly assist in the quest for value!!

More on Friday.