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Royal Ascot 2018: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Two down, three to go, and humpback day at Royal Ascot, also known as Ladies' Day, features the centrepiece of the entire week, the Gold Cup. That stayers' Group 1 looks an excellent renewal, though wagering there - and indeed throughout the Thursday card - provides pitfalls aplenty. No matter, for on the day when lassies don their finery, rarely was it truer that faint heart never won fair maiden. So let's have a crack! We kick off in the...

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)

A shortish field of ten, though not hugely out of keeping with recent tradition. A few interesting patterns - let's call them trends - have emerged, as follows:

- All bar one of the last 15 winners had a pre-race RPR of at least 106. Only Vintage Brut, Konchek and Land Force fit that bill

- Six of the last ten winners were by US sires. Just Pocket Dynamo, Shang Shang Shang and Land Force tick this box

Land Force is of clear interest on this basis, then. But... he was beaten last time out, over six furlongs, and has never won at the minimum. Those are both negatives in the context of the trends. And yet I still want to be with this son of No Nay Never, the 2013 Norfolk winner. He showed good speed in the Listed Marble Stakes last time, only fading in the last furlong or so.

The other to catch my eye in a race where they'll pretty much all move forward on what they've demonstrated to date is Pocket Dynamo. The Robert Cowell-trained son of US stallion Dialed In is that sire's first British runner as far as I can tell. He was second in a Brighton maiden on debut - hardly Royal Ascot form, though the winner and third have won since - before showing more in winning a Chelmsford novice and then a quite valuable conditions race at Longchamp. He was tenacious in victory there, is more experienced than many and, with an RPR of 105, falls just one note short of ticking both my trendy boxes above. He's 20/1.

Wesley Ward's Shang Shang Shang is the favourite, and could win. In truth I don't know much about the horse, but I do know his trainer is 'only' one from six in the Norfolk, the solitary victor being the aforementioned No Nay Never. Four of his other runners were sent off bigger than NNN's 4/1 SP, with a number of them drifting notably on the day. Keep an eye on the market if you want to back this lady.

Vintage Brut and Konchek represent the Listed National Stakes form, running 1-3 there, and Racing Post consider it the best form in the race allotting them the top two RPR's. Vintage Brut had the favoured rail draw that night at Sandown, whereas Konchek was drawn wide and carried wider before rattling home. Clive Cox's colt must have a great chance to turn the tables on this fairer strip.

But I'll take Land Force and Pocket Dynamo at double digit odds against the field.

3.05 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m 2f, 3yo)

The first of four races restricted to three-year-olds on day three is the Hampton Court Stakes. Such races are not really my thing, as I struggle to assimilate what horses have achieved with what they might be capable of doing. Today's preview will be lighter than usual on that basis, and should be taken more lightly also (unless I get all six winners, in which case I meant it, and I hope you backed them all!!)

Although only a Group 3, three of the last four winners - Cannock Chase, Hawkbill and Benbatl - went on to Group 1 glory. The other in that recent quartet, Time Test, was G1 placed on multiple occasions.

Godolphin have won the last two, and they own the early favourite for the 2018 renewal, Key Victory. A winner of his first two starts, he was beaten only three lengths in the French Derby last time. This will be his third run since the beginning of May and, if William Buick can hold a position, he should run well: the worry is that he might encounter traffic problems in this big field around the tight Ascot bends.

Charlie Appleby saddles Key Victory, and also Nordic Lights. This son of German stallion, Intello, was unraced as a juvenile and encountered defeat for the first time in the Dante Stakes at York. Disregarding the facile winner there, he was only a length and a half off second and should progress again. James Doyle rides.

Rounding out the Godolphin triumvirate is Saeed bin Suroor's National Army, who leaps up in grade after winning a novice stakes on debut at the start of the month. He beat fourteen rivals in a fair time and the second home has since bolted up in a similar race. Christophe Soumillon is an interesting jockey booking for a completely unexposed colt with a potentially good draw (if not held up).

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Lots more unexposed types where your guess is as good as mine, but one other worth a quick mention is Mini P. Second in a Newbury maiden over this trip on his only start, his trainer Brian Meehan normally knows what he has and is capable of producing big priced surprises.

But, honestly, I haven't a clue.

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo fillies)

The Ascot Oaks. Ten more unexposed three-year-olds, some of whom ran in the Oaks at Epsom and some who did not. WILD ILLUSION is the clear form pick. She was fourth in the 1000 Guineas and second in the Oaks, clear of the third there. With no Forever Together to fret about here, a repeat of that Classic run gives her daylight over her rivals that day, though it could be argued that the well beaten and re-opposing Magic Wand didn't handle the track.

Of the rest, Sir Michael Stoute's novice stakes winner, Sun Maiden, looks the main danger. She won that little race by fully twelve lengths and in a fair time. It would be no shock if this typically beautifully-bred Juddmonte filly (Frankel half-sister to multiple Group 1 winner, Midday) prevailed but 3/1 doesn't set the pulse racing.

The likes of Musidora second, Dancing Brave Bear, and Johnny G's Highgarden are interesting projects for the season, but this looks a really good chance for the twice Classic-placed Wild Illusion.

4.20 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

A super race in prospect even in the absence of last year's winner, Big Orange. The field is headed by the 2016 champ, Order Of St George, pipped by Big Orange in his repeat bid last term; and last year's Queen's Vase winner, Stradivarius, who went on to beat Big Orange at Goodwood. Further spice is added to the pot by the presence of French staying superstar, Vazirabad, himself a triple Group 1 winner.

In such a race as this we need to consider more than merely the respective form credentials of the field: pace is a key component. Last year, Big Orange was gifted a lead early in the race that he never relinquished, fending off the desperate late rally of Order Of St George and Ryan Moore in the dying strides.

Order Of St George is one of those hide behind the sofa horses. He has obvious class and stamina, but he gets beaten when he probably shouldn't a little too often for comfort. Although winning eleven of the twenty stakes races in which he's competed, he's been beaten at odds on in four of them, including at 1/7. Ouch. He was a little workmanlike last time in a Listed race but that was a prep for this. He may well win and good luck if you want 7/4 about that. I do not.

Stradivarius is the other vying for market leadership. As well as the Queen's Vase and Goodwood Cup, he was a very close third in the St Leger and Long Distance Cup in a terrific three-year-old season. He looked better than ever when bolting up in the Yorkshire Cup on his seasonal bow for this campaign, and could be the champion stayer in 2018. He does have to prove his stamina for this longer trip, something which is not a given for all that he looked robust enough at the two mile range. Again, 2/1 is insufficient in what is a hot race.

Of the front three in the market, I suspect VAZIRABAD offers a little value. Alain de Royer-Dupre's six-year-old has many T-shirts for being there and doing that: he's won two G1 Prix Royal-Oak's, a G1 Prix du Cadran, and has never been out of the first two at races beyond a mile and a half. Indeed, his full form string is 6211111/117121/211112-211, which is rather spectacular when you consider that the last 18 of those 22 runs have been in Group company.

He'll be ridden patiently, but as a veteran of so many races in France he clearly has the gear change required to quicken off a pedestrian gallop. 5/1 looks a very solid each way play.

With little obvious pace in the field, it may be that Torcedor, who adopted pressing tactics in a Group 3 here last time, may again play catch me if you can. He was a nine length fifth (when waited with) behind Big Orange last year, before running up in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and, most recently, that five length score last time. Ascot, then, holds no fears. Nor either does fast ground, so 10/1 could be another reasonable each way play - perhaps without the favourite - about a horse whose form ties in pretty closely on a number of lines with Order Of St George.

I'm struggling to make much of a case for the rest, the pick of which might be Desert Skyline.

Really looking forward to this one!

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 handicap, 1m, 3yo)

No idea. Genuinely no idea. Winners since 2007 at 33/1, 28/1, 25/1 and 20/1 twice mean the market has no idea either. Seriously, why the hell would anyone bet in a race like this?

Crack On Crack On was a good winner last time in a big field at Haydock, and he's ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert. He's improving fast, like most of these. Similar comments apply to Corrosive, who is now on a four-timer after a big field course, distance and going win last time; and Richard Hughes' George Of Hearts, who steps up to a mile having not quite reached the winner over seven here last time.

Twenty-seven others worthy of mention. Where's Mr Felt Tippy's magic pen sticker when you need him?!

5.35 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

More of the same for all that there are 'only' 21 runners this time. Draw has been material: double digit stalls have bagged ten of the last dozen. Why? Not sure, but I presume because it is very difficult to lead all the way in such a big field over such a trip; and if you don't lead from a low draw, you're probably in the pocket screaming for room entering the straight.

So on that basis I've deselected half the field. Honestly, if you've got a better idea, I'm all ears...!

This has been a decent race for the top of the market, too, with two-thirds of the winners since 1997 coming from the top four in the betting.

That leaves me with Cross Counter and Baghdad.

Godolphin colts have won three of the last four renewals, so Cross Counter is your winner. Maybe.

**

Royal Ascot really is a super tough meeting at which to back winners, and I make no apology for being almost flippant in some of my analyses above, particular in the last two races. This is probably a sensible time to remind readers that nothing on these pages constitutes financial advice - duh!

Good luck with your Thursday wagers. I've a feeling we'll need it!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2016: Day 3 Preview

Royal Ascot 2016, Day 3 Preview: Gold Cup, Norfolk, Ribblesdale, Britannia Stakes

The middle day, and the flagship race, of the week. And Ladies' Day. The Gold Cup, this year renamed The Gold Cup In Honour Of The Queen's 90th Birthday, is the Group 1 jewel supported by two Group 2's, a Group 3 and two deeply unpredictable handicaps.

As ever, we start at 2.30pm, with the...

2.30 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)

A race for the rapid. Just eleven go to post this year in the smallest field contest of those open to juveniles, but a favourite of undoubted class. Global Applause won the Listed National Stakes at Sandown last time, beating Mehmas by a length and a quarter. Ed Dunlop's Mayson colt had the best of the draw that day, reversing form from a very good-looking conditions race at Newbury the time before.

That was over six furlongs, and Global Applause looks all speed. As such, if the ground is all right for him, he'll take a lot of stopping, in spite of the surprisingly (to me) poor record of National Stakes winners in the Norfolk: just one - Russian Valour - of the six winners doubled up, and none of the ten beaten at Sandown won here, since 1997.

There is a host of unexposed speedsters in opposition headed by Godolphin's Silver Line. He bolted up at Nottingham last month in an ordinary maiden and, though that may not be especially good form, the boys in blue have plenty of horses from which to choose their squad making his presence noteworthy.

It's also hard to know what to make of Wesley Ward's Red Lodge, a turf winner last time on Belmont's firm lawn. That he's on the plane speaks well for him but, again, ground conditions are a big unknown. His sire, Midshipman, is a dirt influence, and damsire, Aldebaran, has little evidence on which to go, though he did father Main Sequence.

Coolmore are represented by Peace Envoy, a thrice-raced son of Power, himself a Coventry Stakes winner. This lad won a Listed race over six last time, and had previously shown speed to bag a five furlong maiden before running up to King Electric, a winner since, when not getting the best of trips. That was on soft ground offering hope he'll cope with Ascot's conditions but he looks a tad more exposed than some with his form a beat or two behind Global Applause most likely.

Richard Hannon won the six furlong Woodcote Stakes - just - with Legendary Lunch, and he bids for a double double having bagged both races with Baitha Alga in 2014. This son of Dragon Pulse has form on the soft side of good and should probably be unbeaten - a narrow defeat at 1/5 sandwiched between his two wins.

He was gasping for air over Epsom's quick six so the drop back to Ascot's stiff five may be ideal and, as I've said, the trainer knows how to double up. Since taking over from his 'old man', Richard Hannon Jr has saddled three horses in the Norfolk: they've finished 132. Legendary Lunch looks a fair each way bet at around 8/1.

This is a race in which Global Applause sets a clear form standard and remains open to improvement. As such, he's a worthy favourite. But the National Stakes has been an oddly weak portent to the Norfolk, so the relative strength of the Epsom race as a trial - two Woodcote/Norfolk winners since 2010 - points me to Legendary Lunch as a spot of each way value.

Not much from the bookie chaps but, if you don't yet have a betbright account, this is a really solid offer. Click the image to get involved:

betbright_Ascot

3.05 Tercentenary Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)

A tricky race where established Group 2/3 horses line up against rising stars in the Classic generation. The last two winners, Cannock Chase and Time Test, have gone on to prove themselves at higher levels, so it will be interesting to see how the Class of '16 fare in future. First, though, we have the small matter of trying to find the winner.

Blue De Vega is narrowly top-rated, on 107. Michael O'Callaghan's Lope de Vega colt ran second to Awtaad on his seasonal bow and followed that up with a decent third in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time out. That form has been well franked with the first two home there running 1-3 in Tuesday's Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes.

This ten furlong Group 3 is two steps down in class and two furlongs up in distance, and BdV should appreciate both.

Hawkbill is next in the ratings, on 106. Charlie Appleby's Kitten's Joy colt has won his last four, includig over this trip last time out at Newmarket in a Listed race. He beat the re-opposing Abdon there, a horse who was having just his second career start. There is a fair chance, then, of a form reversal, though whether Abdon can finish in front of all-comers is another question entirely: the race they contested last time has thrown six subsequent runners, none of which have even made the frame. In Abdon's defence, his maiden win was on soft turf so he should handle conditions better than many.

Richard Hannon's Steel Of Madrid probably wants faster ground to show his best, his best being 104 and nudging upwards. He was well beaten in the Craven on his only try on softer than good, but he may have needed the run more than most that day. Regardless, he has questions to answer.

Goddolphin's second string is Saeed bin Suroor's Prize Money, second on his last two starts, including most recently in the Cocked Hat Stakes. Like most of this field there is more to come from the Authorized colt, but he is another for whom quicker ground would probably have been advantageous.

Long Island Sound is unbeaten in three - two all weather runs and a conditions race at Killarney on good ground. This is a big step up in class but, as with Godolphin, Ballydoyle has plenty to select from for these races generally. His bare form is some way from the pick of these but he has yet to see a rival in front of him at the jam stick. Ryan Moore is his usual big positive to a runner's chance.

It was a moderate maiden - no placed efforts from five subsequent starters - that Mulk won at Chester last time. But he won it convincingly over this trip. That was his second start, having beaten all bar Sky Kingdom on debut, on good to soft. That one ran third to Abdon and Hawkbill on his next outing, and Mulk can be expected to make a good hop forward for his patient trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.

This is a very deep contest. I have shares in three horses with Michael O'Callaghan so my heart hopes Blue De Vega can win. His form looks a bit better than the Abdon/Hawkbill form on the face of it, and he should stay. Mulk seems over-priced on a line through Sky Kingdom. Sure to be primed for this step up in class, his trainer won this race in 2009 and 2014, in which context 14/1 each way is a reasonable play.

3.40 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo fillies)

The 'Ascot Oaks', that is something of a back-handed complimenet to both racecourses and both races! As with the preceding Tercentenary Stakes, this is a race where early Classic form collides with later-blooming unexposed three-year-olds ready to unmask themselves as top tablers.

The Oaks form is well represented by the filly that closest to Minding, Architecture. Hugo Palmer is having a tremendous run at the moment, his Galileo Gold taking over the stable star mantle for Covert Love last term, and this filly could add further G1 success to his palmarès in due course.

Although no match for the hampered-in-running Minding, she pulled eight clear of third-placed Harlequeen who was herself 14 lengths ahead of the rest. The margins were more akin to a Welsh National than the Oaks and it may be that the race was pretty moderate down the field. But Architecture can be excluded from that comment given her proximity to the established star of the Classic fillies.

On ratings she has a stone advantage on the best of the rest so, if this race doesn't come too soon (less than two weeks since that big Epsom effort), she'll be hard to beat even allowing for the steps forward of her rivals.

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The pick of the opposition may prove to be Even Song, who was mooted as super-sub in the Oaks when there was a brief injury scare regarding Minding. She skipped that contest and comes here fresh. She has to reverse form with Chicadoro, let alone, leap twenty pounds in the ratings to win here - assuming the favourite runs to form - and some encouragement comes from the fact she was staying on so well over ten furlongs in the Newmarket race in which Ralph 'call me Raif' Beckett's filly finished three lengths ahead of her.

She'd be more stoutly bred than Chicadoro as well, but her position in the betting owes more to reputation than form, or even promise.

Johnny G's Sovereign Parade won a Salisbury maiden on her sole racecourse visit. She was green and took her time to pick up there, eventually going away over the ten furlong trip. That was on good to soft, so the drying ground ought to be all right, but whether she can bound up to this level is anybody's guess.

Hugo has a solid-looking second string in the extremely appropriately named We Are Ninety, a filly who has won three of her four races. The form of her sole defeat has worked out well, with Oh This Is Us winning his next two starts. Moreover, We Are Ninety showed improved form when stepped up to ten furlongs last time to win a good Listed race at Newbury, often considered an Oaks trial. She was all out there to beat Beautiful Morning, and she's not certain to stay this extra quarter mile. But if her stamina holds out she's over-priced at 12/1.

French raider, Olala, is one of a number of further interesting entries in a very difficult betting heat.

Even Song may prove herself to be as talented as her PR suggests, but ARCHITECTURE sets a really solid bar to which her rivals must aspire. She's worth a small win bet at 3/1 or bigger. Stablemate We Are Ninety will be a topical and, consequently, well backed alternative, I should think, and she might be a touch under-rated/over-priced at time of writing. She does need to prove she stays.

4.20 Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen's 90th Birthday (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

A massive field of 18, the biggest for more than twenty years, for the feature race of the week. And that in spite of the presence of an even money favourite in Order Of St George.

A reasonably late maturing son of Galileo, Aidan O'Brien's colt has won his last four starts by an aggregate of 28.5 lengths, a sequence which includes an eleven length mauling of his field in the Group 1 Irish St Leger.

With the very sad loss of Brown Panther in that race, and the general mediocrity of much of the rest of field, one shouldn't get too carried away by the winning margin, even though the visual impression was striking. That may be hair-splitting on my part because this chap's form is some way better than his 17 rivals.

So we should pile in, a la "the bigger the field the bigger the certainty"? Well, perhaps. But before so doing, consider that the Ascot race is over two and a half miles, which is fully three-quarters of a mile further than Order Of St George has traversed in his racing career so far.

We know he has the speed to put plodders to the sword over a mile and six, but two and a half? Not sure. Not yet, anyway.

With form on soft ground the only other niggle about his chance is the prospect of it being a messy race. There is no better rider to chart a passage than Ryan Moore, however, and Order Of St George will have every chance of staking a claim to be "the next Yeats".

His price, evens, will be unappealing to most, but it is probably at least fair. I expect he'll go off odds-on so do look for early price boosts on the morning of the race if you like him - as I've tried to demonstrate, there's not too much to dislike.

But there will be each way and 'without the favourite' betting, too, so we should poke around a bit further in search of an alternative winner in an alternative market.

The usual suspects are all much of a muchness - Flying Officer may try to lead, Max Dynamite should be loitering around the frame, Clever Cookie and Mizzou and Pallasator will get in each other's way and largely disappoint - but there are FIVE overseas raiders a couple of which are interesting.

For instance, what if I told you that the one-two from last October's Group 1 2m4f Prix du Cadran were entered here and are priced at 25/1 and 50/1 respectively?

There, Mille Et Mille staved off Kicky Blue by a length and a half, with the likes of Fun Mac, Simenon, Bathyrhon and Clondaw Warrior well beaten off. The beaten horses there would not be at the same level of some of this field but we know that the French un-deux stay the trip well enough.

The winner most definitely had the run of the race that day - I piled into Bathyrhon, sigh - and benefited from top of the ground. The second, Kicky Blue, was also favoured by racing close to the pace but he should appreciate softer turf more then his Cadran vanquisher and could go better than a 66/1 poke. Mikael Barzalona will ride.

Tiberian is another mildly intriguing raider. He got closest to the smart stayer, Vazirabad, in the Priz Chaudenay over 1m7f on Arc weekend, and he promises to stay the extra half mile here. With form on very soft ground and a flexible run style he might beat some of the domestics, making 40/1 a tiny bit tempting for an each way tickle.

And then there's the German entry, Wasir, who was second in a Listed contest over this trip on soft ground. German horses are generally bred more for stamina so that may have been a deeper race than it sounds. He normally races prominently or on the lead, as he did when beating the decent Alex My Boy (favourite for the Cadran before withdrawing) over two miles in a Group 3 last time. He's got got form on soft and good, and he's 100/1.

In summary, there's every chance that ORDER OF ST GEORGE will stamp his authority on this field. But the overseas party has some really interesting players who could make the frame at big prices. Wasir and Kicky Blue are too big at 100/1 and 66/1 respectively, while Tiberian has a spot more class than the pair of them, so a check of the 'without' market in the morning is a must.

If you're thinking of having a crack at a bigger price, Skybet are paying 1/5 the odds FIVE places. Click here for that.

5.00 Britannia Stakes (Class 1 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)

The three-year-old Hunt Cup, and a race on which I don't propose to spend a lot of time on the basis that it is waaaaaay too hard for me.

In fact, I have to be honest and say I don't have an iota of a clue here.

John Gosden has won it three times, placed twice more, so 16/1 Predilection, third to Sea Of Flames in a Listed race should be respected. The latter is trained by David Elsworth and is three from three over this mile trip, all on Lingfield's poly surface. Her turf form is some way behind that and 50/1 is probably a fair reflection.

Zhui Feng is top rated on Peter May's speed figures, licensed to Geegeez Gold. He ran a fair race in the 2000 Guineas to be beaten less than ten lengths by Galileo Gold, and was probably prepping for this when down the field, staying on, over Goodwood's seven furlongs.

Oh This Is Us, mentioned favourably in another context above, bids for the four-timer but may be better known to the handicapper than some of these.

Sir Michael Stoute has won this and saddled six placed horses since 1997, so Mustashry needs a check on this handicap bow. Second in a small field Chelmsford maiden (four winners from five runners since), he won his maiden at Thirsk by six lengths. That form is not good enough to win this, but he could be any amount better than he's shown thus far.

Then again, so could most of the rest...

Impossible redefined is the Britannia Handicap. Mustashry is no more than a token selection, and one of several placepot bullets.

Paddy are offering 1/4 the odds the first SIX places on this race. Click here for that.

5.35 Kig George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo)

Only marginally less difficult than the preceding heat, this 18 runner uber-competitive handicap is widely perceived to favour inside drawn runners. But William Buick's superlative ride on Space Age (no, I didn't back it) in the race last year highlighted the folly of that perception.

Drawn 20, Buick took his time to tack across and settled himself in a handy position, ready to get first run. Meanwhile, as often happens, those drawn low were looking for cover and finding themselves stuck for a run when they needed one, notably the 9//4 favourite under Ryan Moore.

Gold's draw data reveals that middle has an advantage over high, which in turn has been favoured over low. Do note though that there's not much data in the sample so, while the logic holds, the evidence is partial.

Low stalls are at a slight disadvantage in big fields on Ascot's 1m4f run

Low stalls are at a slight disadvantage in big fields on Ascot's 1m4f run

The tables are turned this time, with Buick drawn seven on a horse who likes to bide his time. That combination could see him trapped on heels this time, and he's skinny enough irrespective of his form credentials on that basis.

Those drawn middle to high with a prominent run style include Platitude, Point Of View and The Major General.

Platitude is Sir Michael Stoute's second string, his other runner, Shraaoh, berthed in four. He makes his handicap debut here, as do six others, after four slightly underwhelming efforts in Pattern company. It is unlike Sir Michael to tilt at windmills, the implicatio being that this Dansili colt shows more at home than he does on the track.

The step up in trip looks in his favour on breeding - out of a Sadler's Wells mare, related to 1m6f winners - and Ryan Moore should be able to manufacture a tactical position from the widest gate of all, just as Buick did last year.

Point Of View is trained by Roger Varian, has stall 17, and won his maiden last time over this twelve furlong distance. He's really well bred - by New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare - and did no more than was needed in that inaugural victory. His galloping style should be suited to Ascot on easy ground, but whether he's good enough, or experienced enough, I have no idea.

The Major General is the Ballydoyle runner, with son Donnacha in the plate. He beat Claudio Monteverdi in Listed race at this range last time, that race being on good to firm, and he won his maiden the time before on yielding to soft. Regally bred - by Galileo out of a Danehill mare - he cost 1,500,000 euros as a yearling, so still has a bit to do to recoup the pennies!

Consistently prominent in his races, The Major General should be able to get handy without expending too much energy from box 13.

Loads of others with chances, obviously.

I'm liking the symmetry of Buick winning from the outside gate while Moore was boxed up inside last year, and the roles being reversed this time: Moore has the widest berth, Buick an inside post. So much for the form book, eh?

Well, this is a race where most are capable of showing more than they've been able to so far, and in that context it makes sense to side with one which I believe will get the run of things in what is traditionally a messy affair. Platitude gets the nod on that basis.

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. how are you getting on as we approach the middle of the week? Up? Down? Best bet? Worst bet?!! (I've had a few of those already)

Paget and Miller – An Inimitable Pairing

With the Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, I thought I would take a look at one of the earliest stars and his eccentric owner.

Dorothy Paget purchased Golden Miller in 1931 along with a potentially decent hurdler named Insurance for close to £10,000. Paget was the daughter of Lord Queenborough and Pauline Payne Whitney. The Whitney family were famed in America for their association with the thoroughbred racing industry.

She was an aristocrat, born into a privileged lifestyle with a love of all things fast. She’d been a fair rider in her youth, but issues with her weight meant she became a spectator rather than a participator. Fast cars and racehorses became her passion and she threw plenty of money at both pastimes.

In 1930 she financed the construction of supercharged Bentleys in a business venture with racing driver Tim Birkin. A three year spell failed to deliver a single victory on the track, but the same could not be said for Paget’s involvement in horse racing.

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In the 1930’s and 40s she became champion owner both on the Flat and over the Jumps. Her horse Straight Deal won the Epsom Derby and she owned seven Cheltenham Gold Cup winners. She also won the Champion Hurdle on four occasions and the outstanding Golden Miller took the Grand National for her in 1934.

She became a notorious character within the sport and was renowned for her eccentricity. A complete disregard for men in a sport dominated by them was always likely to create a story or two. She constantly moved her horses from one owner to another after numerous clashes, famously falling out with Golden Miller’s trainer Basil Briscoe despite the horse having won numerous Gold Cups and a Grand National under his guidance.

Paget became a notorious gambler spending thousands at a time. Her largest bet was said to be £160,000 to win just £20,000, and although that particular bet was successful many were not. Bookies stayed open at night to receive her phone-calls and late night punts, often on races that had already taken place.

She ate to excess and smoked non-stop during every waking hour, and it was therefore no surprise that a heart attack took her at the relatively young age of 55. Books have been written on the legendary owner and her unconventional and often belligerent lifestyle.

But what of that fortuitous purchase back in 1931? The two horses went on to win the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Insurance repeated his Champion Hurdle triumph in 1932, whilst Golden Miller became one of the all-time greats, going on to win the Gold Cup five times between 1932 and 1936. He also completed the Gold Cup and Grand National double in 1934.

He was bred in Ireland by Barry Geraghty’s grandfather Laurence. The horse was trained by Basil Briscoe in Cambridgeshire. He had told Paget that she was purchasing a future Gold Cup winner. He proved to be a terrific judge. He won his first Gold Cup at the age of five and went on to dominate the race for half a decade. Fluid over his fences rather than spectacular, the horse fell in love with Cheltenham and saved his best for the course.

His most thrilling success came in 1934 when taking on the excellent Thomond II. The pair had met on several occasions with Golden Miller coming off second best at Kempton. Only five horses made the starting line, with the two favourites settled at the back. With less than a mile to go the pair stepped on the gas and in a thrilling head to head it was Golden Miller that clung on to his crown by less than a length.

Despite years of success, Paget moved all of her horses from Briscoe placing her Gold Cup winner with Owen Anthony. The horse won again at Cheltenham completing his incredible five-timer. His record has never been matched, and Paget remains the most successful owner in the history of the Gold Cup. Both were exceptional in their own inimitable way.

Who Can Claim Coneygree’s Crown?

Coneygree Injured

Coneygree Injured

Injuries are part and parcel of Jump racing. Never a year goes by without one of the leading lights being extinguished before a single Turkey has been stuffed.

By extinguished, I do of course mean temporarily. Cue Card, Sprinter Sacre, Sir Des Champs and just yesterday O’Faolains Boy are great examples of horses returning in style from periods on the sickbed.

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However, for many who are passionate about this wonderful sport, yesterday’s news of injury to the Gold Cup winner Coneygree would still have come as a sickening blow, especially as the staying chase division was promising to be the most exciting in living memory. I may be prone to exaggeration at times, but to lose the Champion when Vautour, Don Cossack, Don Poli, Djakadam, Road To Riches, Cue Card and Smad Place, to name just seven, were all lined up to challenge come March is somewhat deflating.

Just yesterday morning in his Weekender column, Tom Segal (Pricewise) had said: “This is a golden generation of staying chasers and March can’t come quickly enough.”

Of course the show will go on. Let’s hope and pray that Coneygree is back on track as soon as possible. In the meantime we still have the mouth-watering prospect of two corking Christmas crackers; with the King George at Kempton and the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. The list of contenders for both remains spectacular. Questions will be asked, and hopefully plenty of answers will be forthcoming.

Among them, is will the mighty Vautour stay the three mile trip at Kempton, at the furious and relentless pace that is sure to be set by both Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti? Another is will Don Cossack’s jumping hold up under the immense test of a fast flat track three miles, against tried and tested King George opposition? And is Cue Card truly rid of those breathing issues, allowing him the opportunity to repeat the stunning performance witnessed in that Betfair Chase victory at Haydock?

Whilst over in Ireland can Don Poli convince his doubters that he is truly a potential Gold Cup winner, or will Djakadam prove too talented and simply too classy for his highly thought of stable companion? Can the forgotten horse, Road To Riches, repeat his success of 12 months ago? Or maybe another Gigginstown inmate, Sir Des Champs, can turn back the clock and propel himself to the head of the Gold Cup market.

It’s certainly sad for the Bradstock’s that their star has been struck down with the dust hardly yet settled on that momentous Gold Cup winning campaign. Thankfully in his absence, we have a glut of potential stars vying for top honours.

Unlike Mr Segal, I’ll just say that Christmas can’t come quickly enough. Thoughts of March can wait just a little while longer. Just a little.

Kauto Star – A Legend Of Our Sport

The Great Kauto Star

The Great Kauto Star

News broke yesterday of the sad loss of Kauto Star after a freak accident in the field.

His rider Laura Collett said: “I’m devastated to announce Kauto Star sustained injury in the field, and with his best interest at heart a decision was made to put him to sleep. It's just horrendous. He was out in the same field he was out in every day. We don't really know what happened, but he injured his neck and pelvis.”

Owner Clive Smith told BBC Radio 5 live: “It is really devastating - he was looking fit and well at Laura Collett's yard. The main injury was to the neck, as it gets worse it attacks the spinal cord. He also fractured his pelvic bone. The vets made him comfortable but the kindest thing was to euthanize him. It was a horrible moment. He was such a wonderful horse, but he did not suffer.”

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Smith reflected on Kauto’s amazing career, saying: “He's been a fantastic horse and when you think back about how brave he was, he had the heart of a lion. He was so brave, he had everything really. He was the complete racehorse. I have so many great memories; after all he won 16 Grade 1 chases. He was an absolutely incredible horse with a lot of speed, winning over two miles in Tingle Creeks, then right up to the Gold Cups, which he needed a lot of stamina for. He had a beautiful nature and he will be sadly missed by a lot more people than you could ever imagine."

His trainer through those glorious years was Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls. He spoke of the loss: “It's obviously a very sad day and very sad news to take on board. I'm obviously mortified. I saw him every day and he was a great horse in every way. When he left, it was obviously a big hole we had to fill in everybody's lives. He'd been so good for racing and so good for everybody. When something like this happens it's awfully sad, but sometimes things are unavoidable.”

Nicholls went on to speak of the latter years when many thought Kauto’s ability to be waning: “Even after he was written off, to come back and win his fourth Betfair Chase and a fifth King George said everything about him. He was just an amazing horse. Winning the Gold Cup was brilliant, but the two days that really stand out for me are the day at Haydock and the day at Kempton.”

The master of Ditcheat believes his pride and joy may have won a third Cheltenham Gold Cup in his final year had his preparation been smoother. “We never stopped learning about him and I think we had him at his best in the very last year he ran,” said Nicholls. “It was such a tragedy that he fell schooling before going to try to win a third Gold Cup as he was probably in the form of his life. That wasn't to be. He lived on the edge a little; he was one of those sorts of horses.”

Many have paid tribute to the wonderful horse. Robert Waley-Cohen, the owner of Long Run, one of Kauto Star's great rivals, described him as “the outstanding horse of our time”. He said: “His record speaks for itself. He was astonishingly versatile, sound and not short of talent. He was the outstanding horse of our time. For me his most outstanding performances were when he came back to win the Betfair Chase and King George in his final season having looked like he had gone off the boil. The team down at Ditcheat did a great job to bring him back for those wins.”

Ruby Walsh was fortunate to be on-board for many of those great occasions in Britain and in Ireland, and believes he should go down as one of the greatest National Hunt horses of all time. He said in his Paddy Power blog: “Kauto Star was a superstar and it’s a real shame that his life off the track has been cut short. He was a wonderful horse to ride and he gave me some of the best days I’ll ever have as a jockey. He was without a doubt the best chaser I’ve ever ridden – a horse in a lifetime. I’ll never ride one as good as him again. How could you? Just look at his record.”

That record was indeed hard to comprehend. In the 2006/07 season Kauto opened by winning the Old Roan Chase at Aintree before victory in the Betfair Chase over three miles at Haydock. He followed that with a thumping success in the Tingle Creek at Sandown when dropped back to two miles. He then stepped up to win the King George at Kempton before winning a thriller in the Aon Chase at Newbury. A month later he completed a sensational season with victory in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Kauto became very much the ‘Peoples Champion’. Longevity at the very top of the sport aided his rise in popularity. But not only was Kauto a class apart, he had the guts to match. He was a horse that answered every call, and those lucky enough to witness that famous win at Haydock in 2011 will never forget the outpouring of emotion that greeted him in the winner’s enclosure.

Kauto was the horse of a generation; the greatest chaser of the modern era; a superstar of the sport. To those who were closest to the Great Champion; Clive Smith, Laura Collett, Paul Nicholls and Clifford Baker, we send our wholehearted sympathies.

A Sensational Grand National Win For Many Clouds

Many Clouds

Many Clouds wins The National

Many Clouds was a sensational winner of the Grand National on Saturday. He successfully hauled 11 stone 9lbs to victory, a weight carrying feat not seen since Red Rum dominated in the 1970’s.

It’s probably fair to say that he underperformed in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, when seemingly having his favoured conditions, yet finishing some 25 lengths behind Coneygree. Prior to Saturday the decision to even take part in this year’s National appeared more an owner choice than a trainer’s. Sherwood seemed of the opinion that his horse had done enough for the winter and needed another year before taking on the famous marathon.

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But few owners have a passion for the Liverpool showpiece like Trevor Hemmings, and his desire to have another National winner ensured the horse took his place in the field. Understandably elated after the race he said: “It was incredible. You dream about the National and dream about winning it. Then along comes a second which is special but a third is unbelievable and we've done it with three different horses. The race has captured my heart for years and you can't express the feeling. All I can say is thank you Oliver Sherwood and all the staff, thank you Leighton and thank you Aintree."

Jockey Leighton Aspell was winning the greatest steeplechase for the second successive year. Pineau De Re last April and then an amazing follow-up win aboard Many Clouds is surely a dream come true for the 39-year-old. Speaking after the famous win he said: “I asked some big questions and he dug deep. I tried to conserve energy because he had a tough race in the Gold Cup, but my God it's a wonderful training performance from Oliver to refresh and recharge his batteries. He's all heart and all the way round I was thinking this is the best ride I've had over these fences - he was awesome. I was just hoping the battery life would last and it did."

Sherwood was also full of praise for his heroic winner: “I can't believe it has happened. I thought it was a year too soon and Trevor knows that. I said the horse was fit, healthy and well and if you want to run we'll run. It was his decision to run and he should get all the credit. The horse has been unbelievable all season. He didn't run his race in the Gold Cup. I don't know what happened and all we've done since is a couple of quiet bits of work to freshen him up. I thought he'd probably gone over the top but what do I know about horses?!"

Many Clouds can only carry 1lb more in next year’s race (the top-weight of 11-10), and so there is a real chance that he could become a modern-day Red Rum. The National’s most famous racehorse was also an eight-year-old when claiming his first victory. Of course much can happen between now and next April, but the magnitude of the performance on Saturday should not be understated.

We’ve witnessed some incredible performances in recent weeks. A novice chaser won a Gold Cup and now a virtual top-weight has won a Grand National.

The result may have left trend followers pulling their hair out, but true lovers of the sport have to be thrilled by such a performance. It’s possible that Many Clouds is just short of the class needed to take a Gold Cup, and his trainer will have a decision to make next season, as to whether he has another crack at the Blue Riband, or makes a repeat victory at Aintree the main aim.

Such decisions will be made once the parties are over and after a well-earned summer holiday.

Cheltenham Trainers – The Big Three…

Henderson Nicholls

Who'll Be Top Festival Trainer?

With the Cheltenham Festival this week Andy Newton takes a look at the three big yards - the form they are heading into the four days of top-notch action, plus their Prestbury Park track stats...... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 8th Dec 2012

Action over the GN fences this weekend

A great Saturday in prospect with the Becher Chase at Aintree and the Tingle Creek from Sandown to look forward to.... Read more

AINTREE – Trainer Stats….

Nicholls Has Sent Out 10 Winners From His Last 18 Runners

Andy Newton takes a look at how the big stables are heading into this week’s 3-day Aintree Grand National Meeting. Read more

Cheltenham Festival Trainer Stats

Andy Newton gives you all the trainer stats that matter ahead of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival........ Read more

Trainer Stats: 8th March 2012

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

Trainer Stats: 23rd Feb 2012

Can Tim Vaughan Get Off The Cold List?

Did you know that Tim Vaughan is now 52 days and 57 runners without a winner? Andy Newton looks at who's hot and who's not this week....... Read more

Trainer Stats – 8th Dec 11

More trainer clues this week as Andy Newton highlights which handlers are in red hot form, while there are two names on the cold list to look out for........ 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! 😉

Goldie Sights on Gold for Hawkeyethenoo

With jockey Kieren Fallon looking like he is to be shifted to Newbury on Saturday by Luca Cumani, Glasgow based trainer Jim Goldie is on the hunt for another jockey for Hawkeyethenoo, in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup this weekend.

Ayr Racecourse

Ayr Racecourse

The trainer was anticipating to have the champion jockey in his corner in his attempt to be the first Scottish handler to win the big sprint event since 1975 when Nigel Angus triumphed with Roman Warrior.

But unfortunately is now appears that Fallon will be headed to the Berkshire course at the request of Cumani.

"I don't know if Kieren is going to be riding him. I think he's going to be switched to Newbury unfortunately," said the Goldie.

"On Monday it looked as if he was going to ride at Ayr - Mr Cumani had him jocked up on two - but now he is thinking of sending him to Newbury instead. I thought I had him, now I haven't.

"I have several irons in the few for a replacement but they are in a similar position with commitments here and there. We will just have to wait and see."

Goldie has had the impressive four year old sprinter for this event after his victory at York in July, and has faith that Hawkeyethenoo is the charge that could put an end to the hoodoo that has dogged his scorecard in the Ayr Gold Cup.

"I'll be trying to win it. This is my best chance for a long while. I haven't troubled the judge at all. I think fifth is the best I've done, so I'm pretty hopeful this time," he continued.

"There's been nothing wrong with him we've just kept him for this race.

"He'll have a good chance and it should be good ground on Saturday."