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York staying positive as potential date for racegoers’ return outlined

Officials at York racecourse welcomed the news they could be able to admit a full crowd to the Ebor Festival in August.

While the Knavesmire venue narrowly misses out on the possibility of a limited crowd at the Dante meeting which finishes on May 14 – three days before the Government could revise restrictions on spectators at English sports venues – they are instead focusing on the positives.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing his route out of the pandemic, pilot events trialling “enhanced testing approaches and other measures” will be held before a potential lifting of all restrictions on sports and entertainment events from June 21 at the earliest.

The Government’s road map sets out the lifting of lockdown restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step. There will be a minimum five-week gap between each step.

James Brennan, York’s head of marketing and sponsorship, said: “You could look at it that we’ve just missed the cut-off for the Dante meeting and Chester have missed it for their May meeting, but you could go on and on.

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“I suppose the silver lining is we now feel as an organisation we’ve got a positive direction to travel. The Ebor is always our centrepiece and it’s later in the road map as it’s later in the year.

“I think there will be some more clarification around larger venues and as long as everything goes smoothly between now and then, and as long as there are no mutant strains, we can aim at something.

“There may be a few more bumps on the rollercoaster, but we can perhaps look forward to the Ebor meeting with a little more conviction.”

Brennan believes the space between the possible resumption of full sporting crowds and the beginning of the Ebor Festival could be an advantage.

He added: “It seems like there’s a nice period of time between the June 21 date and August 18 for people to have learned a few things, and we’ve got a date in July to help us decide how it will all operate by then.

“At the moment, as the Ebor meeting is later in the road map and that is our centrepiece meeting, we can feel fortunate about that. Whatever event you are running, there will always be someone on the wrong side of the deadline, as we found out today.”

Goodwood are looking forward to potentially welcoming a small crowd back for their two-day meeting on May 21 and 22.

They are also hoping to be back to full capacity for the five-day Glorious Goodwood Festival, which runs from July 27-31.

Adam Waterworth, managing director at Goodwood, said: “It’s still a case of digesting what the Prime Minister said – but it sounds like great news.

“From our point of view, as important or more important, is the idea that hopefully from June 21 the idea is of a full return to normality, with all restrictions gone.

“I’ve listened to the statement and I’ve read the response, but I’ve not had chance to study it in any detail yet – but at face value if that means we’re back to full crowds by the end of June, then for the big meeting at Goodwood, that’s fantastic for Glorious.”

Onassis strikes Listed gold for Fellowes and Turner

Royal Ascot heroine Onassis got back on the winning trail with victory in the tote/British EBF October Fillies’ Stakes at Goodwood.

The Charlie Fellowes-trained three-year-old landed the Sandringham Stakes at the summer showpiece meeting in June, before going on to bag a Listed prize in France the following month.

Returning to Listed class following a fourth-placed finish in the Group Three Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster, Onassis was a 9-2 chance in the hands of regular partner Hayley Turner and came home to good effect to beat 7-2 favourite With Thanks by half a length.

Helvezia was best of the rest in third.

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Fellowes said: “I’m delighted with her. She’s so tough and very talented.

“I thought she was unlucky at Doncaster last time as she was on the wrong side of the track and had to do a lot of work on her own without having anything to take her into the race.

“The race has worked out well, with Cloak Of Spirits (fifth) coming out and finishing third in a Group One (Sun Chariot), so we were confident of a big run today, although you never know how they’re going to handle this sort of ground.

Onassis and Hayley Turner after winning at Royal Ascot
Onassis and Hayley Turner after winning at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“I know she won on soft ground at Ascot, but it was a different kettle of fish today.

“She’s off to the breeding shed next year, so we’ll look at what options we have between now and then. Now she’s shown she goes on heavy ground, that opens a few more doors.

“She’s worth quite a lot money now and I’m delighted for her owners. I’m incredibly grateful that they sent her to me and thankfully she has repaid them – she doesn’t owe us anything.”

Fellowes made it a quick double as Amarillo Star (16-1) came home well clear of his rivals in the tote.co.uk Home Of The Placepot Handicap under Stevie Donohoe.

Goshen was beaten again at Goodwood
Goshen was beaten again at Goodwood (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Leading Champion Hurdle hope Goshen suffered his second successive defeat on the Flat in the Join tote.co.uk With £10 Risk Free Handicap.

Gary Moore’s stable star finished last of six runners at Haydock last month on what was his first appearance since his heartbreaking final-flight exit when seemingly set for a wide-margin win in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

With that run under his belt, he was the even-money favourite for his latest assignment under Hector Crouch, but after making much of the running, he weakened into third place behind the Queen’s Natural History (100-30), trained by Andrew Balding and ridden by Oisin Murphy.

Menuisier heartbroken at loss of Thundering Blue

David Menuisier has paid tribute to “horse of a lifetime” Thundering Blue after the popular grey suffered a fatal injury at Goodwood.

The seven-year-old was pulled up sharply by Jamie Spencer with around two furlongs to run in the tote Foundation Stakes and was taken for X-Rays.

Menuisier later confirmed the son of Exchange Rate could not be saved.

He tweeted: “I can’t really describe how painful it is to have to report the loss of our beloved Thundering Blue. He lived his life like a warrior and fought his last battle bravely too.

“He will be remembered as the horse of a lifetime and a great friend. We LOVE you forever.”

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Thundering Blue won six of his 29 races, including the Group Two York Stakes and Group Three Stockholm Cup, was twice placed in Group One company and won over £460,000 in prize money.

Anna Nerium won the 10-furlong event for trainer Richard Hannon and jockey Sean Levey.

Dropped out early by Levey, she was one of five in a line with a furlong to run as the Godolphin pair of High End and Mythical Magic took on Desert Icon and Oriental Mystique.

Anna Nerium came widest and fastest of all, going on to win at 10-1 – by a length, with High End in second.

Levey told Racing TV: “There was never a doubt about the trip in the end.

“I’m delighted for Mrs McCreery (owner), who has been absolutely brilliant to me ever since I started with the Hannons. It’s nice to win a big race every year with horses like Billesdon Brook, too.

“Although she’s won in the height of summer before, it’s never been her type of ground. Coming here with the rain today, I was actually a little bit confident that she’d run a big race.

“I’m of the belief that if you have a keen horse stepping up in trip, there’s every reason to drop out the back, but you still have to run the same distance. She’s laid back, though, so it was straightforward in that regard.”

Levey is looking forward to riding Happy Romance in the Cheveley Park Stakes on Saturday – although he fears soft ground.

“She’s well worth a crack at a Group One, but I’d fear the rain – realistically I don’t think she’d like soft ground,” he said.

“It has been on the easy side the last twice – but stepping up to that class, you want everything in your favour, and I think that would be quick ground.

“She hasn’t missed many dances this year, but she’s only been beaten twice. She’s got a great mentality and never gives absolutely everything, which is giving her longevity.”

Anna Nerium swoops for Goodwood gold

Anna Nerium relished the step up in trip to 10 furlongs to run out a ready winner of the tote Foundation Stakes at Goodwood.

Richard Hannon’s filly had been disappointing previously this season, but had shown enough previously to suggest that if she did stay the trip, she could be a force to be reckoned with.

Having won the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom’s Derby meeting last year, her class was not in doubt – and she also had a course success over Dream Of Dreams to her name from two years ago.

Dropped out by Sean Levey, she began her challenge and was one of five in a line with a furlong to run as the Godolphin pair of High End and Mythical Magic took on Desert Icon and Oriental Mystique.

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Anna Nerium came widest and fastest of all, going on to win at 10-1 – by a length, with High End in second.

David Menuisier’s popular grey Thundering Blue was pulled up sharply with around two furlongs to run and was taken for X-Rays.

Of the winner, Levey told Racing TV: “There was never a doubt about the trip in the end.

“I’m delighted for Mrs McCreery (owner), who has been absolutely brilliant to me ever since I started with the Hannons. It’s nice to win a big race every year with horses like Billesdon Brook, too.

“Although she’s won in the height of summer before, it’s never been her type of ground. Coming here with the rain today, I was actually a little bit confident that she’d run a big race.

“I’m of the belief that if you have a keen horse stepping up in trip, there’s every reason to drop out the back, but you still have to run the same distance. She’s laid back, though, so it was straightforward in that regard.”

Levey is looking forward to riding Happy Romance in the Cheveley Park Stakes on Saturday – although he fears soft ground.

“She’s well worth a crack at a Group One, but I’d fear the rain – realistically I don’t think she’d like soft ground,” he said.

“It has been on the easy side the last twice – but stepping up to that class, you want everything in your favour, and I think that would be quick ground.

“She hasn’t missed many dances this year, but she’s only been beaten twice. She’s got a great mentality and never gives absolutely everything, which is giving her longevity.”

Menuisier eyes late present from Thundering Blue

David Menuisier is relying on Thundering Blue to give him the perfect late birthday present on what could be his swansong in the tote Foundation Stakes at Goodwood.

The globetrotting seven-year-old may bring the curtain down on his glittering career, depending on how he performs, in Wednesday’s mile-and-a-quarter Listed prize – which will be his first start in Britain in more than a year.

Although Thundering Blue failed to beat a rival on his comeback in a Group Three at Deauville in August, Menuisier – who turned 40 earlier this month –  is confident plenty of his old ability remains intact.

He said: “Thundering Blue has been training well, and we’ve been happy with him.  I won’t be anxious, because I just want the horse to go and enjoy himself.

“He ran well on his last visit behind Elarqam there last year over the same trip. I can’t see any negatives.

Ryan Moore believes Thundering Blue had plenty to offer after his comeback (Francesca Altoft/PA Images)
Ryan Moore believes Thundering Blue had plenty to offer after his comeback (Francesca Altoft/PA Images)

“If he could run well and into a place it would make my day. It would be the best late birthday present. I would give anything for that to happen.

“He has to retire at some stage – hopefully it won’t be tomorrow, but it all depends on how the race pans out.”

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Giving the Pulborough trainer further encouragement that Thundering Blue still has what it takes to be competitive were the words he received from three-time champion jockey Ryan Moore after his seasonal comeback.

He added: “Ryan Moore has ridden a few good ones in his time – and although that was his first time on him, he knows the horse, having finished behind him a few times.

“I popped the question and said ‘are we wasting our time’ and he said definitely not because the engine is intact and the wheels are still there.  He said not to give up on him, because he is still a nice horse.

“It was great a rider like him who said that – (so) as you know, the words are genuine.

Ralph Beckett is keeping his fingers crossed enough rain falls at the Sussex track to allow Air Pilot the chance to try and become the third horse to claim back-to-back victories in the race.

He said: “He needs a drop of rain, so we will see what happens. He went home during lockdown, and it took a while to get him back again.

“He worked really well the other day, and he seems in good shape. He has been a star for the yard.

“We are just hoping he gets some rain, so he can have another crack at the race.

Despite Air Pilot being in the twilight of his career at the age of 11, Beckett has not ruled out running him beyond the end of this season.

He added: “It all depends on how he runs – if he runs well we might go on with him next year.

“He is like part of the furniture and will be missed when he has gone.

“He just loves his work, and that is one of the reasons he is still in training, because he is much more happy doing that than being out in a field.”

Roger Charlton is confident Bullfinch, who will be bidding to complete a four-timer, will have no problems handling the undulations at the track on his return to turf.

He said: “Obviously this is both a step up in trip and class, but clearly he is a horse that is progressing. He is well-balanced, so Goodwood should be fine.

“He has only run on turf once before, and that was in unsuitable heavy ground at Newbury.

“I’m pleased with the way he is working – and he is rated similar to those he is running against – but he has to step forward again.”

The field is completed by Desert Icon (William Haggas), High End (Saeed bin Suroor), Mythical Magic (Charlie Appleby), Anna Nerium (Richard Hannon) and Oriental Mystique (David Simcock).

Dream Conditions For Century In Celebration Mile

Soft ground seems to have scared many runners away this weekend leaving us with a day of largely smaller field races. The highest class race of the day is the Group 2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood and that’s going to be the focus of this article. One of the most popular features of Geegeez Gold is the ‘Instant Expert’ and I’m going to use the Instant Expert to gain a quick overview of the seven runners set to take part in this race.

Place Data

First let’s take a look at it from a place perspective:

Instant Expert Place Data

Ground

I’ve set the going parameter to anything from good to soft down to heavy. We are probably going to be looking at soft, borderline heavy ground for this race but this should allow us to get more data. We can dig deeper into what specific going each horse has handled or not handled later.

It seems that Century Dream and Sir Busker stand out as two runners that not only handle cut in the ground, but relish it. Century Dream has had the most runs on testing ground and has impressively placed in seven of his ten runs. Sir Busker is next best with four placings from six runs on ground that is good to soft or softer.

There is limited evidence about Urban Icon’s ability to handle cut in the ground as he’s had just two runs in these conditions, placing in one of those.

Interestingly enough Regal Reality and Benbatl, the two early favourites have failed to place in over 50% of their races in this sort of going. Between them they’ve managed just three placings in nine starts. The only runners in this field to have never placed on softer ground are Duke Of Hazzard and Positive who seem to have been kept away from softer ground as often as possible and with good reason.

Class

Century Dream again comes out on top having placed in five out of eight runs in class 1 races. Duke Of Hazzard and Positive, who scored poorly on this ground, actually score very well here. That’s not a big help though if they don’t go on the ground.

Urban Icon, Regal Reality and Benbatl have poorer records in class 1 races but it’s worth remembering this will include anything from listed contests to Group 1 races and there can be more merit in finishing 4th in a Group 1 than 1st in a listed race. We’ll dig deeper into the race class later.

Sir Busker is the only one of these to be running in a class 1 race for the first time.

Course

At a course as unique as Goodwood course form is always a positive. There is one clear winner here and that is Duke Of Hazzard who has never been out of the frame in four starts. Sir Busker has placed in two of his three runs. It’s fair to say that no runner is this field has run poorly at this venue.

Distance

You’d expect most runners in a Group 2 to have a solid record over the race distance but it’s worth noting that the favourite here, Benbatl, has managed just one placing in five runs at a mile. This stat really stands out and along with the ground stats for Benbatl suggests he has a poor profile for this race.

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Like Benbatl, Regal Reality is another who scored badly on this ground and also has a poor record over this distance whilst Urban Icon is another with a sub 50% placing ratio at a mile.

Century Dream continues to score well with the best ratio here having placed in 67% of his runs over a mile.

Field Size

Often an underrated criteria, many horses are better suited to bigger fields and others to smaller fields. Yet again Century Dream is looking good having placed in all his runs in field sizes of 7 or less.

The stand out here is Regal Reality’s record in small fields. He’s managed to place in just two of his eight runs in field sizes this small.

Placings Summary

Without having to dig deep into the form Instant Expert has shown us that Century Dream is the really solid horse in this race. Sir Busker also scores well in most categories but is unproven (having been untried) in this sort of company. Duke Of Hazzard looks pretty good but there are serious ground concerns.

At the other end of the scale, Benbatl and Regal Reality, look two of the riskier propositions despite their positions in the market.

Win Data

This is what Instant Expert looks like for win purposes. We are getting less data here but the data we do get should be more telling.

Instant Expert Win Data

Once again Century Dream is coming out very well on all criteria except course as he is yet to run at Goodwood. Sir Busker is another who looks solid and a good proposition over a mile on testing ground at Goodwood. He’s yet to prove himself in this company and perhaps the biggest question mark for this horse is his ability to run well in smaller fields.

Duke Of Hazzard is interesting based on his course record of three wins from four starts. He also has a decent enough strike rate at this distance and in small fields. He’s had only one run on softer ground and finished unplaced so that’s the big unknown.

Early favourite Benbatl only really seems to have small field ability in his favour for win purposes whilst Regal Reality is unbeaten at Goodwood but other than that most of the elements that make up this race seem against him.

Positive scores poorly for wins in any of these circumstances except field size, and even a sole victory from three starts in small fields isn’t that great on the face of things. Meanwhile there is little evidence that Urban Icon will be at home in this race.

Digging Deeper

So far we have a very positive profile for Century Dream, a generally positive one for Sir Busker and a big ground question mark over Duke Of Hazzard. It also seems Benbatl and Regal Reality might be worth taking on.

Let’s first look at Duke Of Hazzard’s ground preference as he may be easy to rule out on that basis. Instant Expert is only able to look at runs from the UK and Ireland and a deeper look at Duke Of Hazzard’s form tells us he’s actually run three times on ground softer than good. Two of those runs were perhaps slightly below par but in Group 1 company so finishing unplaced wasn’t a disgrace. He also finished 2nd in a listed race at Deauville on good to soft. It doesn’t look as though he’s hopeless on softer ground and he clearly goes very well at Goodwood but there has to be a suspicion he is at his best on fast ground and it will probably take a near career best to win this.

Are Benbatl and Regal Reality really no hopers in this race despite their odds? Benbatl is the highest rated runner in this field and has largely been contesting Group 1 races over the past few years so having more unplaced efforts isn’t the end of the world. Looking at the ground though, he has been beaten favourite on softer than good on three of his four starts in those conditions (and was well beaten over too far a trip on his other attempt). The worse the ground gets, the worse he performs it seems.

Benbatl also had some worrying stats in races over a mile. Two of his five runs at a mile came on heavy ground. Those runs are relevant here as the going may not be far off heavy but they aren’t poof that he isn’t effective at a mile. He’s won over this trip at Group 2 level in the past so he’s clearly capable of winning this sort of race at this distance but it backs up the suspicion that the ground will be too soft for him.

Regal Reality was an impressive winner last time out over this trip at Group 3 level (good to firm). That was in an 8 runner field which perhaps allays fears he doesn’t act in smaller fields (he does have a poor record when there are 7 or fewer runners). All his wins outside of maiden company have been on good to firm ground though and whilst he’s placed on softer ground it’s worth noting that his only defeat from four runs at Group 3 level came on soft ground. The ground is the main reason to oppose Regal Reality but the fact he’s not won above Group 3 level in eight attempts is also a concern for his backers.

That leaves us with Century Dream and Sir Busker. Century Dream looks extremely solid based on Instant Expert so let’s see if he has any limitations. He’s never run at Goodwood but there is nothing in his profile that suggests he won’t handle the course. Possibly the best evidence we can get is to look at the Instant Expert for this race but from the sires’ perspectives.

Instant Expert Sire Data

Cape Cross’ offspring have run nine times at Goodwood in the past two years producing two winners. That might not seem a massive win ratio but it’s only bettered by Sire Prancelot (sire of Sir Busker) here and even then that’s by just 1%.

Let’s now look at Century Dreams’ defeats in Group company over a mile with cut in the ground. His two career unplaced efforts in these conditions came in an Ascot handicap on good to soft ground where perhaps it wasn’t quite soft enough for him and again at Ascot in a Group 1. In fact this horse has won just once from seven starts at Ascot (33% strike rate elsewhere) so it might not be his ideal course, for all he is Group 1 placed there on soft ground. Away from Ascot his only defeat over mile on softish ground was a 2nd in a listed race at Newmarket.

It would be hard to argue that Century Dream isn’t good enough to win this Group 2. His only run so far at this level was a 4th in the Summer Mile at Ascot on unsuitable good to firm ground. He has won both his starts at Group 3 level comfortably and has previously got within ¾ of a length of Roaring Lion in the QEII stakes at Ascot (possibly not his favourite track).

Can Sir Busker defeat him? He’s been a rapid improver this season, going up 19lbs in just 5 runs and he’s still relatively unexposed at this distance. He was slightly unlucky not to win a competitive handicap last time out off 107 so could easily yet rate higher than his current mark of 111 which leaves him just 4lbs to find on Century Dream. Sir Busker was 2nd here as a 2yo, won a low grade handicap here as a 3yo and his only unplaced effort at this course was in the Golden Mile two starts ago when getting no run on the rail whatsoever.

The main concern with Sir Busker would be his ability to handle small fields. He’s a real hold up performer who needs a decent pace to aim at so it stands to reason he’d generally be better in bigger fields. He has won in 8 and 9 runner fields, albeit off much lower marks in handicaps, but was outpaced in several smaller field races last year (often at shorter trips than this).

The key here to Sir Busker is going to be the early pace.

Celebration Mile Pace Map

Benbatl is likely to lead with Century Dream well placed just off him. It doesn’t look like there will be a strong pace which could inconvenience Sir Busker. If Benbatl ends up being withdrawn because of the ground then there is likely to be an even slower gallop and that pushes things more in the favour of Century Dream and less in the favour of Sir Busker.

They say ‘class horses go on any ground’ but the evidence in this race is that several of these are going to find conditions (not just the ground) against them. Century Dream seems to have everything going for him and Sir Busker is not far behind.

I wouldn’t put anyone off either of these runners who are available at 11/2 and 9/1 respectively at the time of writing. Unfortunately with just 7 runners each way betting is far less attractive. However it could be worth maximising the value from this race by backing both Century Dream and Sir Busker in a reverse forecast.

Monday Musings: Trouble’d Times

Last week I wrote in this space that I would not be trying to join the 5,000 racing optimists who were all set to travel to Goodwood for the test meeting set to confirm that the country is indeed coming out of the worst effects of the now almost five-month agony of the Coronavirus pandemic, writes Tony Stafford.

Barely 24 hours before this new departure for so many, the word came of the frustration for the 5,000, the feeding of which was not the matter of a Biblical “five loaves and two fishes” miracle. It was a major logistical exercise involving butchers, bakers and if not candlestick makers, certainly outside caterers who had worked night and day on menus, the provision of champagne, lobsters and smoked salmon as well as the beer, pies and burger vans that keep all us hungry racegoers happy.

My wife’s interest in racing is about as deep as that of Josephina, the Yorkshire terrier’s, but Boris’ statement did strike a nerve and possibly the beginning of a protest movement with the prospect of  ice skaters standing outside 10 Downing Street or as near as security will allow them, wearing their skates. She (not Josephina), in what was to be her first try-out of her repaired broken leg, had lessons booked for today, tomorrow and later in the week. But once again, with the rinks having gone to the expense of getting the ice prepared for action after all that time, they got the same two-week delay as beauty salons, bowling alleys and indoor theatres.

Coaches have lost their income but now, happy to be back had set up the initial appointments, which have now spun on for two more weeks. Champion skaters, those young kids who practice at crack of dawn before school every morning and then again straight after to try to do well enough to represent their country in international competition, often when they are among only a handful of people in the arena, have another fortnight at least to vegetate and try to keep the enthusiasm going. As she says, public sessions should be treated as a separate issue.

The ramifications, as with what happened to all that food prepared for Goodwood, are far-reaching. I hope the bulk of those choice provisions was able to be diverted to people who would have been grateful for it, but you have to wonder whether some was just chucked into a nearby bin with losses covered by insurance.

The cause of the delay was a “spike”, or an increase in parts of England in the mystical “R” figure. As I’ve been boring readers for months, I’ve kept a daily record of the numbers of new cases and deaths and every week since the peak on April 12, the number of deaths had been decreasing. Percentage-wise from the week of April 12th (incidentally in 2020 it would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, and how he would have celebrated Saturday’s Cup Final result!) it has gone down initially by 3%, then 11%, 14.6%, 28.8%, 18.4%, 22.4%, 21.4%, 5%, 28%, 19.2%, 11.5%, 16.2%, 10%, 20% and in the week to July 25th, another 7%.

From 6425 in the week to April 12th, deaths had dropped by 93%. Even though many more people had been tested as the weeks went on, new infections have continued to fall. The last week did show some modest increases on its immediate predecessors in new infections, but fatalities were almost static in the week of “new spikes” and an increased R number. Last week it was 452 and contrary to what we are being subliminally persuaded to believe, this week to yesterday it was still down, albeit by only three.

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If the government thinks that bowling alleys, ice rinks and theatres are going to cause the much-feared second wave, then what about pubs where the boyos could watch the Cup Final in close contact with each other, or indeed Goodwood and Galway and celebrate backing a winner? Or the beaches, where in the near 90-degree heat of Friday and Saturday, the crowds were much in evidence again? Social distancing, where?

I’m just waiting, having stayed indoors to all intents and purposes since Cheltenham, to resume normal life, as no doubt we all are. As predicted, I enjoyed Goodwood and Galway, mostly for the amazing performance of Stradivarius, when I confidently expected the Irish Derby winner Santiago to take advantage of the 15lb weight-for-age allowance. The way Frankie Dettori extricated him from a typical Goodwood pocket was a measure of his enduring greatness as a jockey. I expect a big run from him in the Arc. Can he beat Enable and Love? Maybe!

Battaash emulated Strad’s four-timer in the Goodwood Cup with one of his own in the King George Qatar Stakes, but his task was far less onerous. Charlie Hills, a trainer who seems to get very little recognition for his skills - maybe it’s his mild, polite manner or just that he is his father’s son - has done wonders to concentrate all of Battaash’s once-wayward tendencies into track record-breaking brilliance.

**

In the 20 years since Betfair was launched onto an innocent market place many things have changed, especially in the horse racing world. Its arrival coincided with the last two of my 30 years at the Daily Telegraph and I remember writing in that publication that I believed anyone on the new exchange sites who laid horses should be required to be licenced as bookmakers– and pay for the privilege.

Nothing has changed that opinion, but what is different today is the degree to which Betfair Exchange odds lead running “industry” (as they are almost exclusively now) prices and influence SPs.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is that bookmakers do not give money away willingly. So when as happened in the 8.30 race at Thirsk on Wednesday, a horse that the owner had been backing, not excessively, but significantly all afternoon and at 8 p.m. or thereabouts was firm at around 10-1, could, by 8.20, just before the first show in the shops, be available briefly at 60-1 on Betfair, you knew something was probably “funny”.

The horse in question was Trouble Shooter, a five-time winner for owner Simon Lockyer in 2019 under trainer Shaun Keightley but now with Richard Guest. This was to be his debut for the Yorkshire-based trainer and in the build-up to this first run for seven months, expectations had been high. I’ve known Lockyer for just over a year and in the winter we met one of my friends who had been interested in buying into one of the owner’s horses. That didn’t happen but he obviously keeps a close eye on matters racing and betting and called at around 6.30 to say he’d seen that Trouble Shooter “has gone from 12’s to 7’s so presumably it’s fancied.”

I called Simon, and learned that yes they were more than hopeful, at the same time revealing that an associate connected to one of his horses had just called to ask him about Trouble Shooter’s chances.

“He said,” Lockyer began, “that he doesn’t like ringing to ask about another owner’s horses but would like to know if he thought it had a chance. He said he’d had a multiple bet, finding some long-priced winners and that if Trouble Shooter won, it would come to £300,000.”

Upon ending the call, I related that information to my friend and we haven’t discussed it since. Hopefully he didn’t rush to take the reduced price as he would have been no more shocked than me and of course Lockyer when the first show at the track was 25-1. That did prompt some modest mid-market support down to 12-1 but by the off he was out to 20-1 having touched 28’s according to the betting report. After at one time getting as close as fifth, around three lengths behind the leader, he eventually dropped away to finish eighth of the ten runners.

As I said earlier, bookmakers do not give money away. The trainer assured the owner that Trouble Shooter would run well, only reducing his assessment from ten out of ten to nine in the last hours before the race, but I’ve found over 50-odd years’ experience of talking to trainers that even the best of them have slightly diluted optimism as race-time approaches.

It is well known that Betfair have an open line to the BHA, one which has brought about suspensions of a number of jockeys and owners, who contrary to the rules had been found to have laid their horses on the Betfair Exchange. I trust - and I know Nick Rust sees these words every Monday - that Wednesday’s 8.30 race at Thirsk will feature in their deliberations. Not least identifying which bookmaker stood to lose £300k.

The consequences of what happened are still unravelling where Simon Lockyer is concerned, but I repeat someone must have known rather than suspected that Trouble Shooter would not win, and I was aware beforehand that one punter stood to win £300,000 if he did win, or to be Devil’s Advocate, claimed that he would. I think the lay bets should be investigated down to the minutest of transactions. I know at least one other person that could provide evidence of his actions (exclusively backing not laying!) that morning and afternoon.

How can a 7-1 shot (I think they took 10’s at 8 p.m.) open at 25-1? The Editor of this web site was interested as the former Chair of the Horseracing Bettors Forum. Since I originally wrote these words it was he that informed me that Trouble Shooter had never won previously off a layoff of more than 30 days; and that he had been ahead of the eventual winner, the favourite King’s Charisma, three furlongs out; and that he was running off a seven pounds career high mark.

Fair points, I agree, but I still contend that somebody KNEW Trouble Shooter would not be winning. It would be interesting to know who was so certain that he was prepared to offer 60-1 against it happening.

  • TS