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Royal Ascot 2017: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2017: Day 1 Preview, Tips

The greatest summer meeting of them all, Royal Ascot 2017, is a feast of top class racing spanning five sumptuous days. In what looks set to be scorching weather conditions, fast ground specialists ought to be an exclusive play all week, a week that starts with a sextet of fiercely combative heats, among them three Group 1's.

The first of six on the day, and thirty across the week, is the...

2.30 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

On figures, this is Ribchester's to lose. Godolphin's progressive last day Lockinge winner has the best form, and is lightly raced; if there is a niggle it's whether he wants lightning fast ground. The son of Iffraaj was beaten on his sole good to firm start last term, albeit shaping like he's improved since then. He's a worthy favourite and will make plenty of multiples as the week kicks off.

For small money, I'd rather tentatively take my chances, each way, with Lightning Spear. This fellow does enjoy rattling turf and has little to find with the favourite on a couple of pieces of form. Drawn high - Ribchester is in stall one, the early speed probably low to middle - he has made the frame without winning in all three course and distance spins, including last year's renewal of the Queen Anne. 5/1 is probably fair enough.

As with all races all week, there are plenty of others with chances, including the ultra-consistent Mutakayyef (in the first three in 14 of his 15 career starts). Todd Pletcher's US raider, American Patriot, who loves lightning fast ground may be the most interesting outsider in the field at around 25/1.

3.05 Coventry Stakes (Group 2, 6f)

The Coventry is a six furlong dash for two-year-olds only, and tends to shape the very early 2000 Guineas betting. The caveat, which applies seemingly to all of the juvenile heats at Royal Ascot this year, is that a certain American gentleman - Mr Wesley A Ward, Esq. - may have a hand, or a hoof, in the finish.

He tests the water here with a colt owned by Coolmore, called Arawak. Arawak is very difficult to quantify off a single run, and win, in a dirt maiden special weight over five furlongs. What I can relate is that Wesley's best record comes at the minimum distance, and he has only twice had runners in the Coventry, both big prices, both well beaten.

Looking to Peter May's excellent ratings, he was kind enough to share the winning performances with me from previous renewals, and they make for some interesting observations. Firstly, all winners since 2009 had won their prior start. The longest price of any of those Coventry-winning horses when winning their prior start was 5/2, and five of the eight winners since 2009 came from the first four in the ratings (20/1 War Command did not have a rating).

This year, De Bruyne Horse tops the May ratings - featured on the geegeez Gold cards - and he's followed in by Brother Bear. It is Jessica Harrington's colt I like, and have backed. Unbeaten in two starts to date, the latter a facile victory in the Listed Marble Hill Stakes, he's drawn in the middle from where I'd imagine he will stalk the pace and pounce if he's good enough. He's offered at 9/2 currently.

I've also backed Romanised, who was an impressive winner of his maiden and comes here directly off the back of that effort; and I think another once raced colt, Nebo, might be smart. Both of that pair are around 16/1.

3.40 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f)

A second G1, this time for speedballs over the minimum trip. The Palace House Stakes winner has an exceptional record in the King's Stand in recent years with five winners from the Newmarket contest prevailing in this, including the last four, since 2010.

The very speedy Marsha represents that form line in 2017, having been a taking winner at HQ six weeks ago. Her run style is to be waited with, which may be viewed as both a positive and a negative in the context of this year's race. It is a positive because there is a ton of early speed and she'll not get caught up in what will quite likely be a meltdown ; and it is a negative because Luke Morris will need to thread a passage through a potential wall of fatigued horses from a draw in stall nine. I backed her at 8/1 straight after the Palace House Stakes, and implied readers might do likewise in this post. She is still 4/1 in a place and I think she'll be a point shorter on the day.

That is better than main market rival, the trailblazing Lady Aurelia, who has to do something like a solo from the widest gate of all, stall 18. She has a little bit to prove for me, and though she's a perfectly credible winner, and may be 'the speed of the speed', I don't want to get involved at around 3/1.

I'm not much of a fan of Signs Of Blessing in the context of this race - cue easy win - a horse whose form is pretty much all on soft ground over six furlongs. This ain't that.

One of the better big prices is Goldream, winner here three years ago, and patently not at the races last term. Now eight, his best days could be behind him, but he's got very close to both Marsha and Profitable this season, that pair the last two winners of the King's Stand. But his age puts me off a little.

Profitable has the opposite draw to Lady Aurelia, in stall one, and he may just find himself away from the main action. That's about the only downside for him and he should again run his race. I slightly prefer his former owner's Priceless, however, and backed that one prior to the Palace House in the hope she would prevail there. She didn't, running a solid fifth, but she did win next/last time out, at Haydock in the Group 2 Temple Stakes on firm ground. 14/1 is still an attractive price, and ostensibly a bit on the big side.

4.20 St James's Palace Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

A mile round the turn for three-year-olds only, with dual 2000 Guineas winner, Churchill, bidding to win a second battle with Barney Roy, runner up at Newmarket. It's a compelling match up, with Churchill bringing a higher level of form and Barney Roy presumed capable of greater improvement after just three runs to date.

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Much was made of the Ballydoyle team tactics in the 2000 Guineas, with Aidan O'Brien fielding a squad and controlling the race. He saddles three this time, including the guaranteed pacemaker, Lancaster Bomber: it certainly won't be the first time a lancaster bomber has set the scene for a Churchill victory. (sigh, it needed writing!) Godolphin also run Thunder Snow, second to Churchill in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and now racing on a notably different surface - it was yielding when they last met.

In truth, this makes little appeal as a wagering proposition. I expect the favourite to confirm superiority over his Curragh conquest, and more than likely over his Newmarket underling too. The prices offer little appeal for anything except perhaps a really dull straight forecast.

Nevertheless, it remains a race to savour between an established high class horse and potential top notcher.

5.00 Ascot Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 2m4f)

Twenty runners in a handicap and a 3/1 favourite trained by Willie Mullins. You'd be forgiven for thinking we were at Punchestown, but no, this is Royal Ascot. Mullins had a battalion entered at the five day stage, but relies on Thomas Hobson - ridden by Ryan Moore - to get the job done. Mullins has run eight in the race, and won it twice, down the years, so odds of 3/1 about this year's challenger are accurate on the representation front at least.

Thomas Hobson was a 100-rated handicapper when trained by John Gosden, but he did his winning on soft ground. Indeed, he's won nothing more than a Class 4 handicap and a maiden hurdle on good ground, and has been well beaten on his only try on good to firm. He certainly won't be a shock winner, and there's a fair chance he'll make his own running in a race that can involve more hard luck stories than a shift at The Samaritans, but he's not lugging my cash at that price.

One that has the right credentials to be involved is Alan King's Oceane. For a trainer who has a lot of runners on the flat, I was surprised that he's only had two previous entries in this race; this year, he saddles three.

Oceane is the outsider of the trio - Who Dares Wins and Rainbow Dreamer his better-fancied stablemates - but he loves fast ground, has very good form at the track, is within hailing distance of his last winning rating, and handles a big field well. I do have a slight reservation about whether he'll see the trip out on the level, but he's a sporting price at 16/1.

5.35 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f)

A big field of sub-top class but largely unexposed juveniles over the minimum trip. Tricky territory. Six of the last eight winners also won last time out, including scorers at 14/1 and 20/1, and two Wesley winners, one of them at 33/1 (those days are long gone!). That trims 24 down to eleven, which is a fair start.

Only the Wes winners scored off a solitary previous run, which may (or may not) count against Roussel and Marchingontogether. Interestingly, perhaps, three of the last six winners had already run thrice, and this may be a race where experience counts. Or, more likely, it's just coincidence. Certainly the longer term trends point to twice raced animals as being the prime movers.

Declarationofpeace is an obvious starting point. He was deemed by bookmakers good enough to be outright ante post favourite for the Group 2 Coventry, and yet here he is, two rungs lower down and he's not even the jolly. That hardly screams confidence. It may be that owners, Coolmore, wanted to separate Arawak and this guy, in which case he could see solid support in the run up to the race. That would be significant, all the more so because the others vying for market leadership are both trained by Wesley Ward, who also handles Arawak for 'the lads'.

Reading the soundbites from Wes, he may slightly prefer Nootka Sound to Elizabeth Darcy. Both are fillies taking on the boys, and both figure at the top of the betting. Importantly, perhaps, Nootka Sound has a middle draw while ED is marooned in the two box. Frankie Dettori rides Nootka Sound and this will be point and shoot territory: if she sees the trip out, it will take a fast one to gun her down.

Of the speculative bigger prices, Tom Dascombe's Dragons Tail is fast and his form is working out well. He won on second start, by four and a half lengths, the third and fourth (re-opposing Dahik) having won since. He's 20/1.

Good luck with your Day One wagers, and remember, we have oodles of top stuff for the Royal meeting, whether you're a free or Gold subscriber (more top stuff if you're Gold, natch! 😉 )

Matt

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Eight Cheltenham Festival Takeaways: Notebook Horses

Notebook Horses From Cheltenham

As the Cheltenham Festival gradually begins to fade from the memory, racing writer and broadcaster Rory Delargy (@helynsar on twitter) offers an octet to keep in mind for the coming month, and early part of next season. Trackers and/or notepads at the ready...

Tuesday:

The Young Master (6th - Ultima Handicap Chase):
The early-season vibes weren't terribly positive about the prolific son of Echo of Light, and he was relatively weak in the market when falling in the Becher Chase on his belated return (beaten at the time). He predictably made no impact in the Cleeve Hurdle on his next start, but looked a picture in the Cheltenham paddock, and shaped as if back in good order in finishing sixth behind Un Temps Pour Tout. He raced in the mid-division along the inside, jumping accurately on the whole, and while he struggled a little with the pace, was able to dispute third at the top of the hill before being passed by half a dozen rivals on the downhill run to the third last fence. He looked sure to drop away from that point, but rallied to re-pass a few from the final turn, and he now looks like he needs a stamina test to be fully effective. It's easy to conclude that he doesn't handle the Grand National fences, but it's a lot more likely that he's been trained to peak again in the spring, and either the National or the Bet365 Gold Cup would be viable targets. As far as the latter is concerned, it should be noted that the handicapper has dropped him 2lb to a mark of 148, the same as when winning last April.

Powersbomb (4th - Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase)
Brian McMahon's chaser has caught the eye on a couple of occasions this year, rallying in some style after propping badly at the second-last fence at Leopardstown on his penultimate outing, and again looking a bit better than the bare result last week. In contrast to Leopardstown, he was held up by Jamie Codd (deputising for regular rider Mikey Fogarty), and made mistakes at the second and fourth fences. That made his chance look remote, and he was again untidy when making ground at the third last. Shaken up thereafter, he snapped back onto the bridle, and made sharp progress to get close at the turn, but had to race wide as a result, and while he got to the front between the last two, he was looking vulnerable when getting into  the bottom of the last. That he kept on for fourth was commendable as he looked to find the trip stretching him, but I spoke to Jamie straight afterwards, and he was unhappy with his ride and admitted that he'd hit the front too soon. In saying that, he is clearly effective at shorter, and would be of interest in the Red Rum at Aintree, which is usually run at a frenetic pace. He's been raised 4lb to 134 in Ireland, incidentally, but ran off 138 at Cheltenham, and there ought to be a race for him closer to home if that's what McMahon, who trains near Ennis in Co. Clare, would prefer.

Wednesday:

Scoir Mear (5th - Coral Cup)
Scoir Mear was my only ante-post bet at the Festival, so it was galling to see him finish fifth when most firms paid five places on the day (yet another reason to throw into the pot marked "why ante-post betting is dead"). But that doesn't begin to tell the story, as Tom Mullins' grey might easily have won with better luck/judgement in running. Jumped off at the rear, he was never more than a length ahead of the back marker for the first half of the contest, and despite travelling sweetly, still sat sixteenth as the field jumped the penultimate flight. In a strongly run affair this can potentially be an advantage (who can forget What's Up Boys and Big Strand coming from the clouds to win this race?), but the pace of the Coral Cup steadied down before halfway and the leaders weren't falling in a hole by any means. Switched to the inside on the final turn by David Mullins, he found a pocket of weakening horses, and had to take back and around to get a clear passage. Jumping the last in a dispute of thirteenth place, he again had to take evasive action to avoid Kalondra on landing, before flashing home for fifth. The negatives are that he wasn't always fluent at his hurdles, and did show a tendency to lug to his left, which explains the second piece of interference he met, but the positives far outweigh those niggles, and while Supasundae deserves full credit for winning, Scoir Mear looked second best on the day, and his form all season keeps getting franked. The Irish handicapper has raised him by a solitary pound for his effort at Cheltenham, and there must be a valuable prize in him before the season is through. On an incidental note, I was told on the eve of the race that the 5-y-o had not travelled over well, and didn't eat up on arrival. That wasn't the line given on the day by his trainer, but it came from a reliable source, and would make the performance even more meritorious if true.

Diable de Sivola (5th – Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle)
The Fred Winter shaped like a very strong race for all the winner, Flying Tiger, was quite a big price. Runner-up Divin Bere is clearly a big talent, and Nietzche brought a solid profile and very useful flat form to the table. That trio should pay their way, but the one to take out of the race is the winner's stablemate, Diable de Sivola, who finished best of all in fifth, having been no closer than thirteenth jumping the last. It's dangerous to constantly mark up horses who finish fast from a poor position, and in doing so, it's important to establish why they found themselves in that position in the first place. In the case of Lizzie Kelly's mount, it's not entirely clear how, but he suddenly lost a good position on the run from the second and third flights, and was massively compromised by that scenario. Television pictures of that part of the race are very poor (wide angle shot with the low sun making detail hard to pick out), but it's likely that he got squeezed out and lost momentum, or simply failed to handle the downhill run at that point. Either way, he turned into the back straight in a good position, and somehow lost that spot completely by the time the field reached the fourth. Getting back into contention in a congested field was always going to be difficult, and Kelly had to wait until the final turn before cutting back to the inside and passing rivals. It's to his credit that he almost made the frame from an impossible position. He was reported by Nick Williams to have needed his prep run at Doncaster, and an earlier second to Defi du Seuil here looks better in retrospect, all of which suggests his unchanged mark of 132 is there to be exploited.

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Thursday:

Top Notch (2nd - JLT Novices' Chase)
Pretty much all the talk after the JLT was about the brilliance of Yorkhill, or indeed the brilliance of his jockey, who somehow managed to make this headcase look a straightforward conveyance in winning, and he's as short as 8/1 for next year's Gold Cup, and the same price for the Ryanair. On the other hand, Top Notch goes through an impressive first season over fences with barely a ripple; already a Grade 1 winner over the bigger obstacles, he could arguably be called an unlucky loser here, as he lost considerably more ground with a rare mistake at the second last than he was beaten, and his jumping was an absolute joy to behold in the main, as it was when he won at Sandown. That mistake rather took the gloss off the finish, as it threatened to be a classic with both he and the winner travelling strongly at the time. The game is, as we're often reminded, all about jumping, so marking horses up for late errors is a dangerous precedent, but this looked a case of the rider needing to ask for a big jump at a crucial point and opting to sit still instead. Top Notch isn't one to stand outside the wings, but he has more scope than he's given credit for, as he showed when gaining ground with a brave leap at the final fence, and in my opinion he would have made Yorkhill pull out all the stops if he'd been asked to produce a similar leap at the previous fence. As such, his price of 16/1 for next year's Ryanair seems rather insulting, as that race looks by far his most likely long-term target. In the short term, the Manifesto at Aintree should be right up his street, with or without Yorkhill.

Ballymalin (7th - Pertemps Final)
One of the features of the week was how steadily run many of the handicaps were, although the Pertemps Final was an exception, and a couple of those who raced towards the front throughout can be marked up for their efforts. The bold-jumping Sutton Place looks a horse for the future, with fences beckoning next season, but if I had to pick just one to choose for the immediate future it would be Ballymalin, whose stable sent seventeen runners to the meeting but came home empty-handed. I'm not one to read too much into such figures given how hard it is to win any race at Cheltenham, and it was tactics rather than the form of his yard which saw Ballymalin out of the frame. All three of the Twiston-Davies runners took turns in the lead and the son of Presenting fared much better in the end than either Splash of Ginge or Arctic Gold, and five of those who beat him came from significantly further back in the field. This was just his second start in handicaps having finished third behind race favourite Impulsive Star in his qualifier at Exeter, and while he's clearly got the ability to run well off his mark (unchanged since Exeter), I envisage him being stepped up to Grade 1 company at Aintree, where he'd not look out of place in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, a race won by the same connections with Ballyoptic last year. Nigel Twiston-Davies also trained King's Road (1999) and Pettifour (2008) to land the Sefton, both of whom arrived under the radar to some degree.

Friday:

Renneti (8th - County Hurdle)
Some horses find their way into your notebook with a mental asterisk next to their names to remind you not to be too easily fooled, and the temptation is to categorize the quirky Renneti like that.  He certainly hasn't looked in love with the game in the past year, but when on song he is very close to top class, and he had nothing go his way in a bizarre renewal of the County Hurdle, with Wakea allowed to set up a massive lead despite not exactly scorching off. As a result, the race only took shape on the long run to the final flight, and the form cannot be taken literally. Renneti would have preferred a bit more ease in the ground, for all the track was watered liberally overnight, and he stays beyond two miles, needing the emphasis on stamina at this sort of trip. Like Labaik on Tuesday, he set off quite sweetly at the back of the field, but his position soon became an issue, and his chance of winning evaporated when the field allowed the leader to do his own thing.  That said, he made up considerable ground from the penultimate obstacle, and finished about as fast as it was possible given the majority in front of him were also trying to quicken from the same juncture. He's never one about which to take short odds, and ideally needs a strongly-run race on soft ground to bring out his best, so opportunities to back him may be limited by conditions, but he's more than capable of making a mockery of his current mark, and could even get into the mix in something like the Aintree Hurdle.

Constantine Bay (4th - Albert Bartlett)
The Albert Bartlett was another race run at a much more pedestrian tempo than is the norm, and that certainly suited the winner, who has the turn of foot of a high-class flat performer, something he is likely to prove again in the summer. Those who got close to Penhill therefore deserve great credit, and while Constantine Bay was beaten over fifteen lengths in fourth, he was the biggest eyecatcher of the beaten horses having been stopped in his tracks when The World's End fell in front of him at the second last (Penhill also hampered in the incident, while the faller is also interesting for the future having moved up to dispute the lead at the point he capsized). He was knocked back to a poor ninth at that point, and did really well to stay on for fourth from that point. He is clearly a game and thorough stayer as he showed when winning at Doncaster on his previous outing, and it should be pointed out that he was at full stretch coming down the hill, so clearly wouldn't want a tactical race at this trip. But there are lots of options both this spring and into next season for one who has shown his blend of gameness and stamina, and he's another who appeals as a decent staying chaser in the making.

Why Sectionals Matter

Galileo Gold wins at Royal Ascot. Sectional times tell us how good a performance this was.

Galileo Gold wins at Royal Ascot. Sectional times tell us how good a performance this was.

One of the more surprising stories to emerge from Irish racing in the past few weeks was a revelation from Johnny Ward of the Racing Post that SIS plan to back the establishment of sectional timing at all Irish tracks from the start of 2017, writes Tony Keenan. This news was unexpected on a number of levels, not least because Irish racing is essentially backward in nature, and whether it comes to fruition or not, be it in 2017 or beyond, remains to be seen.

But I for one would be strongly in favour of not only their use but the idea that they could be widely disseminated to the betting public and it is hoped this initiative is not a pipedream. The reasons why sectional times matter have been covered many times before, and often by bigger and better brains than mine, but even so it is worth restating their benefits here, if only to put my views on record. Much of the focus of these articles is on punting as that is the perspective I feel best qualified to represent but for this one I have tried to keep the focus away from mere gambling and look at the industry as a whole.

 

  1. Reading Races Better

The central cog to the sectionals argument, the one that most the other benefits stem from, is that these times allow for much better race reading. Pace is a vital component of any race, as even the most limited club runner who has gone off too fast or finished with running to give in a 10k race can tell you, and the naked eye simply cannot capture as much about pace as a number can. From my own perspective, my understanding of a how a race has unfolded is enhanced greatly by using sectional times to such a point that I now find that my reviews of races without these times are missing something.

There are a number of punters currently either taking their own sectional times or using Timeform’s archive of the same and they have an edge; from experience I can say that sectional upgrade horses are often underbet in the market now. The public availability of these times, and the eventual understanding of what they mean, could erode this edge to a degree but punters who want it to continue as such are being selfish; a strong sport is better for everyone.

Moreover, this sort of data-rich sporting landscape is exactly what the modern fan wants, indeed expects. Analytics may have been born in America with the likes of Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders, but such methods are over here now in soccer (yes I do call it soccer) through people like Michael Cox of Zonal Marking; and bringing something similar to racing would surely attract more followers to this most complex of sports.

 

  1. Early Talent Identification

The fact that a number of racing yards, not least Ballydoyle, already use their own sectional timing in training their horses speaks plenty about how useful they can be and it can certainly help those go-ahead stables in ascertaining what they have from an early stage. This applies on the track, too, where horses like Golden Horn have stood out from an early stage on the clock. So, while it is only one method of talent evaluation and may get horses wrong, it seems as reliable as any purely visual approach: indeed, it would be best if both methods were combined.

If we can understand a horse’s sectionals within overall times we are able to place them in a historical context and get a sense of where they might fit in terms of ability, for instance by looking at all the sectionals at a given track over a period of time. This would not only help punters but also owners, trainers and breeders. The owner might spot an undervalued horse he wishes to buy; the trainer might become better at rating his horses from an early stage and thus place them more appropriately; and the breeder can know what sires or dams might be over- or underrated.

 

  1. Accurate Rating of Jockeys

One of more interesting developments in American sports analytics has been the idea of WAR or Wins Above Replacement, a number that rates how superior a player is to a limited (or replacement level) alternative and is basically one of the best ways of evaluating how good a player is. I have a dream that we will one day have a WAR statistic for jockeys that will allow us to properly discuss their respective skillsets and abilities, because so often analysis of riders now boils down to the ‘how many winners have you ridden’ argument.

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Sectionals could play a part in this sort of analysis and, over the course of Royal Ascot, they were able to inform on a number of poor rides that the oft-unimpeachable Ryan Moore gave over the few days: importantly, with the substantial logic to back this up. Of course, there is more to evaluating a jockey; these figures would not be able to put a value on how good a jockey is at riding work or dealing with connections or providing feedback on a horse. But to say that such numbers are useless would be as wrong-headed as to say they are everything.

Not only would such times help us to properly rate jockeys but they might even improve race-riding as jockeys become aware of mistakes they are making. Every jockey gives bad rides as race riding is simply too dynamic for anything else, but we have far too much preciousness around criticising them at present. Arming ourselves with the facts and not personalising these critiques would go a long way to building a proper analysis – and development – framework for jockeys.

 

  1. Improvements in Integrity

If sectional times allow us to rate rides better, then surely they can also be used for integrity purposes, providing the authorities with facts and data - rather than the current opinion and conjecture - to support their battle for a cleaner sport. The Turf Club have suffered some high-profile defeats in integrity case appeals this year and it is ironic that one of the central arguments that saw Barry Geraghty and Tony Martin exonerated in the Noble Emperor case came from sectional timing as Donn McClean explained how the horse was making up little to no ground on the winner late on.

It is bizarre that the defendants rather than the prosecution was using this approach and it makes sense that stewards on the track would have access to such data at the time rather than merely after the event, perhaps comparing them to historical events. Rightly or wrongly (and it’s wrongly if you ask for my view), Irish racing has a reputation for skulduggery, a sort of nod-and-wink conspiracy that we’re ok with horses being none too busy. Sectional times could certainly play their part in improving this perception and making our racing more appealing.

 

  1. Opens New Data Horizons

There is a sense from some racing people that it’s cool not to be interested in sectional times, or times of any kind for that matter, and it is almost as if the ‘sectionals boys’ are being set up against the traditionalists, much like the scouts and the data nerds in ‘Moneyball.’ Even the term ‘sectional boy’ is dismissive and I find it disappointing that many in the industry, not content with adopting an ‘each to their own’ philosophy, seek to actively block developments in this area.

I am for more and more data and sectional timing is part of this; if you want to know about wind operations and weights of horses then already having gotten the sectional times can only help you get this information. Data begets data. With all this information, people can then decide what they do and don’t want to use; maybe ten-year trends are your thing: if so, good luck to you, I won’t stand in your way.

The establishment of sectional times in Irish racing would demand higher standards around going reports and measurements of race distances both of which are badly needed and could eventually lead to the sort of next level data that makes modern sports analytics so interesting. But only if we in racing allow it…

- Tony Keenan

Geegeez Roundup: Lucky Pants, the Guard, Gold stuff

Gosh, it's been a while. Ten days in fact. What's new with you? Ignoring the dominant headlines of the past week - on both front and back pages - here at geegeez.co.uk, there are a few noteworthy, if largely inconsequential in the grand scheme, updates.

First up, a massive well done to Geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert, who had a tremendous day yesterday at Brighton. He won the first race of the afternoon aboard 6/1 chance, Assertive Agent, and then followed that up with 14/1 Curious Fox in race two. That was just the start, though, as Probert rattled off the hat-trick with a patient ride aboard Fashion Parade, an 8/1 shot, to register a 944/1 treble.

 

Three further rides passed as the elusive quest for a first ever career four-timer looked to be slipping away... but, on his last of seven mounts at the seaside track, Ron Harris' Noverre To Go proved just the steed for a little personal history-making.

Their victory at 15/2 rounded out a staggering 8,031.5/1 quad, and made for a very happy Davy P. I texted David last night to congratulate him and suggest it was all down to his lucky Geegeez pants, to which he replied, "Thanks Matt. Yes, they're still working! Hope it keeps going."

So do we, David, so do we!

****

Elsewhere, and as I mentioned in my last round up post - which you can look back on here - we have a number of horses in training syndicated through geegeez.co.uk. Nonagon was well touted in that post and ran out a 10/1 winner for us a few days later. He's since run second when stepped up to two miles before failing to get the run of the race in a pedestrian heat at Redcar. They can't go quickly enough for him from the gate with his relentless gallop a real asset when the early pace is sizzling.

Whilst I don't have the same confidence in Dragoon Guard at this stage, he's shaping nicely and ran well last time when third at Fontwell. He runs again this afternoon and, though the rain will make Worcester's two and a half mile trip feel more like three, we'd be hopeful of another good spin IF he can see it out.

Table Manners, another of our syndicate horses, received an opening handicap mark of 56 (which, of course, counts her out of 0-55 races), and I'd expect she'll be competitive sooner rather than later in that grade. Her debut run was very good and, though she's not backed that up yet, she will find life easier in handicap company. Keep her on side.

The Geegeez Geegee is on his summer break, and will come back to handicap chasing in the late summer/early autumn. And we have East Wing, an unraced bumper horse - full brother to Listed bumper winner, Coeur Blimey - who has needed a bit more time, to look forward to later in the year, as well.

Hopefully Dragoon Guard will be able to go very close to winning this afternoon if he lasts home in what could be pretty testing conditions.

****

Meanwhile, development continues on Geegeez Gold, as always, and we have a few additional snippets up our sleeves for our next release: snippets being the operative word.

We recently introduced the Sire Snippets report, and we're now working on making the content of that report contextual within the racecard for Gold subscribers. "What within the what?!" Contextual within the racecard... here's what I mean.

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Clicking on the breeding icon in the racecard will, for Gold users and on Races of the Day for free users, soon also reveal the sire's two year overall performance. Further, you'll be able to see how that sire has fared with horses in the relevant age range, race type (flat turf, AW, hurdle, chase, NHF), and race distance bracket.

This will be especially handy for horses with limited form - for instance, maidens, novice hurdles and National Hunt Flat races.

It represents part of a wider piece around sires. In the same upcoming release we'll be adding sire search functionality, and you'll be able to add sires to your Tracker as well.

These pieces will be available within a fortnight or so.

In due course, though not this next release, we'll have similar two-year contextual snippets for trainers as well. These will incorporate, for example, the trainer's record with first time handicap runners (when he/she is running a horse in a handicap for the first time); with today's jockey; with horses switching to his/her stable (on yard debut); with two-year-olds first time out (when running a 2yo debutant); and so on.

I think it will be a super-cool addition, and it should be online before the end of August.

We have much more in the pipeline, including extra bookmakers in the odds comparison tab; the long-awaited draw/pace content; and an upgraded pace tab that includes historical performance data by run style for races at the course and distance of the race you are looking at. Here's what I mean:

The new improved Pace tab, coming soon...

The new improved Pace tab, coming soon...

 

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We've got plenty of exciting geegeez.co.uk-related stuff happening at the moment, and I'm very happy that you're an ongoing part of it. Thanks for reading!

Matt

A National Surfeit

The Grand and Scottish Nationals have rightly taken centre stage on the last two Saturdays, writes Ian Sutherland. They are as good an indicator as any that the jumps season is all but over. Yet there is still one more National to run before the curtain falls, Perth's Highland National, taking place this afternoon.

Matt's positive mention of Royale Knight for the Scottish National led me to listen out for the thoughts of the television team. I was surprised to hear that he was already a winner of three Nationals, and astonished when I looked up his profile to find that they were the last three races he had won (a Borders National in 2013 and the Durham National in 2014 and 2015). Here we had a three time National winner that wasn't on my radar at all.

It led me to wonder - are there too many Nationals?

How many do you think are run each season? And why are they all called a National? Now I've absolutely no quibble with the Grand, Scottish, Welsh and Irish races of that name. Each is a pinnacle of long distance handicap steeplechasing in the respective country, and the calling the race a National certainly helps to capture its importance.

Yet the racing calendar includes another 13 "regional nationals", surely a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

The following table shows races run over a distance of 3m 2.5f or more, with those reserved for amateur and conditional jockeys, or novice and hunter chases. There are 45 of them, with 16, or just over a third, including the word National in the race name. There are two anomalies: I've included the Summer Cup, run at Uttoxeter, as until 2011 that was known as the Summer National. And from this season the West Wales National has been reduced from 3m 4f to 3m 1.5f, a great shame in my view.

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One of the things that makes a National special is the spectacle of a large field of horses taking each other on. Five of our 16 Nationals fail on that score, unable to attract 10 runners this season. Indeed, for the Cambridgeshire National, only four horses went to post, down from five in 2014, and eight in its inaugural running in 2013.

That's not what a National is about. It's time to drop the word from some of these long distance chases.

- Ian S

 

Date Course Title Distance Grade Runners
30-Apr-15 Sedgefield Free Bookmakers Bets 3m 2.5f Class 4 5
5-May-15 Sedgefield Jardines Catering 3m 2.5f Class 5 8
30-May-15 Stratford AMG Logistics 3m 3.5f Class 3 9
28-Jun-16 Uttoxeter John Smith's Summer Cup 3m 2f Listed 17
3-Sep-15 Sedgefield Tips on this Race 3m 2.5f Class 5 8
12-Oct-16 Sedgefield Renew Holdings 3m 2.5f Class 3 5
25-Oct-16 Wincanton Desert Orchid Silver Cup 3m 2.5f Class 3 8
29-Oct-16 Sedgefield Durham National 3m 5f Class 3 7
6-Nov-15 Musselburgh Thistle systems 3m 2.5f Class 4 4
14-Nov-15 Cheltenham Murphy Group 3m 3.5f Grade 3 17
15-Nov-15 Fontwell Southern National 3m 3f Class 3 13
19-Nov-15 Wincanton Wincanton Interactive 3m 2.5f Class 4 6
21-Nov-15 Haydock Betfair Pricerush 3m 4.5f Class 3 8
24-Nov-15 Sedgefield Betfred follow us on Twitter 3m 2.5f Class 5 11
4-Dec-15 Exeter Brewin Marathon 3m 6.5f Class 3 12
5-Dec-15 Sandown London National 3m 5f Class 2 15
6-Dec-15 Kelso Borders National 4m 0.5f Class 3 8
26-Dec-15 Market Rasen Lincolnshire National 3m 3.5f Class 4 12
30-Dec-15 Haydock Last Fling 3m 3.5f Class 2 8
1-Jan-16 Cheltenham Watch Live Racing 3m 2.5f Class 2 8
9-Jan-16 Chepstow Welsh National 3m 5.5f Grade 3 20
14-Jan-16 Catterick N Yorks Grand National 3m 6f Class 3 12
16-Jan-16 Warwick Betfred Classic 3m 5f Class 1 14
21-Jan-16 Wincanton Somerset National 3m 2.5f Class 3 14
6-Feb-16 Fos Llas West Wales National 3m 1.5f Class 2 7
20-Feb-16 Haydock Grand National Trial 3m 4.5f Class 1 8
26-Feb-16 Exeter Devon National 3m 6.5f Class 3 12
22-Feb-15 Newcastle Eider 4m 0.5f Class 2 17
29-Feb-16 Ayr Dawn Homes Kilsyth 3m 3f Class 4 8
2-Mar-16 Bangor RAO/Racing Post 3m 5.5f Class 4 8
6-Mar-16 Huntingdon Cambridgehire National 3m 6.5f Class 3 4
13-Mar-16 Warwick Free Skips For Metal 3m 5f Class 3 11
14-Mar-16 Taunton Bathwick Tyres 3m 4f Class 3 6
17-Mar-16 Hexham Perfect Location 4m Class 4 6
19-Mar-16 Uttoxeter Midlands Grand National 4m 2f Listed 18
23-Mar-16 Warwick Executive Hire News 3m 5f Class 4 10
26-Mar-16 Haydock Tim Moloney 3m 4f Class 3 8
27-Mar-16 Plumpton Sussex National 3m 4.5f Class 3 8
9-Apr-16 Aintree Grand National 4m 2.5f Grade 3 39
12-Apr-16 Exeter Exeter Audi Stayers 3m 6.5f Class 3 9
13-Apr-16 Cheltenham Racing UK Now 3m 4f Class 3 16
16-Apr-16 Ayr Scottish Grand National 4m Class 1 28
21-Apr-16 Warwick Close Brothers 3m 5f Class 3
22-Apr-16 Perth Deeside Highland National 3m 6.5f Class 3
23-Apr-16 Sandown Bet365 Gold Cup 3m 4.5f Grade 3

 

The Horse That Should Win System Review

The Horse That Should Win System Review

The Horse That Should WinThe Horse That Should Win System is a backing and laying system.

The system requires that the selection for each race is either a back or a lay depending on it's price. The selections and instructions are given each day and it is necessary to either be at a computer for the whole of the day or place the bets using a bot. Read more

Welsh Champion Hurdle Preview

Welcome to Ffos Las!

Welcome to Ffos Las!

Less than two years after becoming Britain’s first new turf racecourse to open in more than seventy years, Ffos Las hosts the inaugural William Hill Welsh Champion hurdle tomorrow.  This represents the biggest day in the Carmarthenshire racecourse’s short history, writes Paul Moon.

You will not find Ffos Las (blue ditch) on any map as there is no such place: it lies between the old mining villages of Trimsaran and Carway and was named after the farm that once occupied the site.  Twelve years ago the course was the deepest coal mine in Europe!

The Welsh Champion Hurdle has been revived and given the kiss of life by Ffos Las Racecourse.  Before its deterioration this was a listed event run at Chepstow, but for whatever reason the administration there allowed the race to wither then perish.  It became an ordinary Class 2 handicap giving rise to greater quantity at the expense of quality!  At its new venue, it is to be hoped that the race’s former eminence and lustre will be restored with added relevance and value, seeing as the timing will now render this a meaningful Cheltenham Champion Hurdle trial.

Ffos Las is ideally equipped to stage the Welsh Champion Hurdle, and has a determination to increase its appeal.   After losing the race last year because of freezing weather conditions everything looks set fair for tomorrow at 2:40, when a select quintet of runners will take their chances.  Belatedly and to add a bit of glamour, Channel 4 will make their first ever live visit to the track.

Speaking to Public Relations Manager, Kate Miller of William Hill, during the week, she told us: “We are delighted with the entries for the inaugural running of the William Hill Welsh Champion Hurdle, which boasts contenders from England, Ireland, and the host Nation Wales.  Previous winners read like a ‘who’s who’ of elite Champion Hurdlers with Persian War, Night Nurse, and Bula all adorning the winners’ roll, and this year could prove no exception”.  We hope she is right.

The race will now hold the responsibility of being one of the premier hurdle races in the calendar and the course and its sponsors will develop the occasion as a serious pre-Cheltenham trials day. By timing the race in late January or early February (six weeks before the Cheltenham Festival) it positions the two-miler as a major target to every top hurdler in Britain and Ireland especially in regards to the prestigious Champion Hurdle.

For locals, the most interesting horse in the race is the Nicky Henderson trained Oscar Whisky.  Minutes after the horse had completed his last piece of work on Wednesday we spoke to the owner and developer of the course, Dai Walters.  He was in a buoyant mood.

A steering job for Oscar Whisky tomorrow?

A steering job for Oscar Whisky tomorrow?

Dai Walters reminded us that the race had been targeted for some time and he desperately wants to win it!  He confirmed his personal excitement and admitted that Saturday will be a very emotional day as he aims to fulfil one of his ambitions for Ffos Las.  He told us that both he and the trainer were delighted with Oscar Whisky’s wellbeing and that the preparation had gone well.  All he wanted now was for the horse to arrive at the course safe and sound.  When I asked if he could beat Peddlers Cross he replied in the affirmative!

Originally Henderson was insistent that the next objective would be the Champion Hurdle but he has proved he has stamina as well as speed.  Looking at his run in the Supreme Novices Hurdle behind Menorah the suggestion is he might be better suited to Cheltenham’s World Hurdle over three miles.  Conversely he was only beaten four lengths by the winner and it was his first defeat in six races.   At this moment he deserves to be taken very seriously for either race but his pretensions as a genuine two-mile Champion Hurdle horse will be revealed on Saturday.

Unfortunately for the Welsh track, Sandown stages its Contenders Hurdle on the same afternoon, and what should be a virtual walkover for Binocular there will see jockey Barry Geraghty ride at Ffos Las.  AP McCoy stands by to deputise should the need arise.

Here is the full race schedule for tomorrow, along with a selection from the Geegeez writing team:

1.30pm: Williamhill.com Novices' Hurdle
Selection: Sprinter Sacre

2.05pm: William Hill - Home Of Betting - Novices' Chase
Selection: Joker's Legacy

2.40pm: William Hill Welsh Champion Hurdle
Selection: Oscar Whisky

3.10pm: Williamhill.com Handicap Chase
Selection: Maktu

3.45pm: Land Rover Handicap Hurdle
Selection: Je Ne Sais Plus

4.15pm: Professional Security Management Maiden Hurdle
Selection: Swingkeel

4.55pm: Lincwear Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
Selection: Henok

Courtesy of Kate Miller and William Hill, we have been given a free £50 charity bet and after some deliberation we have decided to put it on Oscar Whisky at best price guaranteed, which should see us able to contribute to our chosen charity.  Any winnings will go to the Wales Air Ambulance (This is an all Wales charity providing a vital service through emergency air cover for those who face life-threatening illness or injuries).

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Over at Sandown, there are more Festival clues on offer, writes Matt Bisogno.

The opening juvenile novices' hurdle (why is the juvenile always first? Do these horses have to be home in time for tea or something?!) sees the jumping debut of smart flat performer, and latest errant Geegeez Cheltenham portfolio wager, Moose Moran. Rated as high as 104 on the flat, he'd blow these away if running to anything like that mark.

Of course, hurdles are a considerably different challenge, and the 25/1 I took is going now. A couple of firms are 16's this morning, though you'll still get the 'pony' from Tote, Fred and VC if you're quick. (You might get 40's after tomorrow's race though!! 😉

Kumbeshwar recently rattled up a hat-trick on the level and runs for Alan King in Mille Chief / Walkon / Franklino (!)'s colours. He'd be a danger if taking to the sticks.

In the 1.55, Contenders Hurdle, Binocular is scheduled to go off something like the 1/10 favourite, which really is utterly pointless in terms of a racing spectacle. Given the big gun (Oscar Whisky) racing west of Esher, surely the race planning committee need to pull rank here and do away with the Sandown event, which I believe was only instigated last year in order to get a run into Binocular.

Moving on, and at 2.25 we actually do get a decent event - the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, formerly won by the likes of Punchestowns and Best Mate. If you're looking at it as an Arkle trial, you'd do well to bear in mind that no winner of this two and a half miler has won the Arkle. In fact, most of them have lined up in the RSA Chase.

Consider yourself warned if you're on Medermit or Captain Chris for the speed novices chase at the Festival. That aside, it does look an excellent renewal and picking a winner is tougher than tough. No more than a token selection is Rock Noir under AP McCoy. Depending on the price, I'd be tempted to lay Medermit as I'm not certain he especially likes the fences (refused once in his four chase starts).

An impossible Grade 3 handicap hurdle next, and if you find the winner you'll have done very well. Venetia's top weight, Quartz de Thaix should be watched with an eye to the Festival handicaps (runs off 148 over hurdles, only 125 over fences... oi oi?!), but I'll take a (big) chance with Philip Hobbs' County Zen. He does have a slight stamina doubt, despite a fifth place over three miles last time, but his balance of form mean he's well-weighted in this contest, and has a win at the track, albeit over shorter.Having been mostly raced over fences recently, he might surprise a few.

The 3.35 is filed under 'impossible' and I won't even offer a token selection. I will say that I'll be looking for late headway from both Theatrical Moment and Chief Yeoman with a further eye to the Festival handicaps. Moreover, I'm expecting Burren Legend to finish this time which, if he does, might see him competitive. No bet though.

More Venetia action in the 4.05, and I'm tempted to wager Zacharova each way, though this one may be running over a shorter than ideal trip deliberately, in order to shed a couple more pounds prior to the Festival. He's won off 125 and goes here from a mark of 119. His chase wins have all been at around three miles, so in this two-miler, expect late headway!

One for whom the trip is spot on is Nicky Henderson's Anquetta. He's taken a while to get it together, which is why he has such a lowly handicap mark, but I'm pretty sure he's better than he's shown so far, and even that level of form would see him competitive against some pretty exposed types.

In case you've got any money left at this point, the concluding race is a novices' handicap hurdle, and there's eighteen of them going to post! Three 25/1 winners in the last six years is hardly a shock in that context, so let's get speculative here, and take a couple of long shots against the field. First up then, Victor Dartnall's Henry Hook might run well.

The bang in form stable won this with 14/1 Exmoor Ranger two years ago, and Henry will stay every yard of these two and a half miles, a comment that is not universally applicable.

We'll supplement the Hook with Kim Bailey's Regal Approach, who was third in a similar race over three miles at Cheltenham last April (20 runners). This chap's been novice chasing, but he stays and comes here in good enough form to be competitive.

Best of luck as ever with your weekend wagers, and let's hope for some great action at both Ffos Las and Sandown, and a winner or two for the beer and chips on Saturday night.

Matt (and Paul)

February Trainer To Follow

V for Victor: Dartnall's a man to follow in February

V for Victor: Dartnall's a man to follow in February

In a packed programme tonight, as the pair of Ronnies used to say, we've got a trainer from Devon who is well worth keeping on the right side; two horses in whom I have a personal interest running today; and, a quick update on the questions I asked you earlier in the week.

So to business. I've been 'mucking around' with some settings in the Stat Attack feature in HorseRaceBase.com (the brilliant site I told you about a few weeks back), and each day it gives me a report for my criteria.

Essentially I'm always on the lookout for hot trainers (remember that TrainerTrackStats was my invention way back when, before Gavin took it on so excellently, and I'm still a trainer stats fiend!). And the chap I want to talk to you about today is one of those wonderful creatures who have recorded a level stakes profit in recent years.

In layman's terms, if you'd backed all of his horses since the start of 2007, you'd be in front. Nice work. So, drumroll please, and step forward, Mr. Victor Dartnall.

He's in great form at the moment which is what highlighted him to me today. But let's break down his overall performance to draw on a few sub-trends in his profile.

Firstly, January and February have always been strong months for our Vic. In fact, during the period 2007 to now, he's shown a 150% return at SP. To Betfair odds, that translates to an eye-watering 231.9%.

Now before you go mortgaging your house/spouse/mouse to lump on, note that Vic hasn't made a profit in every year, though in the lean years, there was only a slight loss.

What about race types? Does Mr D focus on any specific types of race or is he a dab hand at one distance range over all others?

'Yes' is the unsurprising and short answer. In races of 2m5f or less (including flat races), Victor Dartnall has the following figures to his name since the start of 2007:

73 wins from 359 bets for a level stakes profit of 65.86 points at bookies' starting price. Betfair punters would have been swimming in gravy to the tune of a whopping 203.73 points profit. Yikes!

In class 4 races or lower (i.e. Class 4, 5, 6, or 7) at the distances above, Dartnall's stats are even hotter:

61 wins from 282 bets (21.6% strike rate) for a profit of 83.97 points. That's £839.70 for tenner flat bets. At Betfair odds, we woulda coulda shoulda bagged 214.08 points, or £2,140.80 for those self same tenners. Yikes again.

So there you have it. It's a Victor-y D for Mr Dartnall, notably when he runs his nags in races at 2m5f or less and in Class 4 - 7. He's got one such beastie today, in the bumper at 4.50 Wincanton. Flyit Flora is the name of the dame, and she's a 20/1 shot, so don't expect too much too soon. But note that Victor is 10 wins from 52 starters in bumpers, but 0 from 3 at Wincanton in bumpers.

Obviously, that's a miniscule sample size from which to draw meaningful conclusions, but his overall record at the track suggests we should probably have an interest only, and follow Victor more rigidly from tomorrow...

********

Today's racing holds interest for me personally, and also for some fellow Geegeez Racing Club members who were given first refusal on shares in another Feilden stable inmate, Sail Home. I also have a bit of another horse running tonight at Wolverhampton.

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Sail Home runs in the 3.00 Southwell this afternoon, and she's highly likely to go off favourite. In what looks a three horse race, despite there being six contestants, 'Sally' will probably have most to fear from Eseej and Trachonitis (a rugged region to the east of Jordan,  mentioned in the bible, apparently).

Sail Home won last time over course and distance, and has improved since then. She'll need to have because on that occasion she beat a reasonable bumper horse running over far too short a trip, and three trees.

Eseej is more exposed (considerably) but consistent here at Southwell where he's won three times over the distance, and off higher handicap marks than he races from today. His wins have all come in smallish fields as well.

Trachonitis is a bit harder to fancy, which probably explains why he's twice the price of the other two, but a line through Dontpaytheferryman gives him a good chance with Eseej.

The other trio look regressive (Thundering Home and Amazing Blue Sky) or just plain not good enough (Just Zak).

I'll be cheering from home today, but I know most of the other syndicate members are there this afternoon, so good luck chaps!

Later this evening, I'll be cheering the seasonal (and my ownership) debut of my first / only horse interest away from the Feilden yard, when Smarties Party steps out at Dunstall Park. It's a two miler at 7.00, and she's been going nicely at home. Although she might need the run tonight, there's little in the field of nine aside from the hattrick-seeking Delorain and the seconditis machine, Rosewood Lad.

As such, more in hope than any great expectations, I'll be betting her for a place and looking for some promise prior to her National Hunt bow in a few weeks time.

********

And finally, to both top and tail with Ronnies references, thank you very much to the 1,346 of you who responded to my quick survey. You never cease to amaze me with your generosity when it comes to your time, and your answers quite simply make the difference between doing something and not doing it.

When I was pondering a forum here on Geegeez, you told me emphatically no. I was relieved to hear that, and heeded your advice.

This time I was asking about live odds comparison, and you have suggested that many of you would find the convenience of that facility here on Geegeez a definite benefit. So, I'll be making sure that happens in the not too distant future, ideally in time for Cheltenham as it will be an extremely useful resource when bookies are falling over each other to do us favours... (It only happens once a year, so we need to be ready to make the best of it!).

And finally, finally, all these references to Messrs. Corbett and Barker have made me nostalgic, so - it being Thursday and all - how about a return of another old friend, in the guise of Thursday Fun? Here's the Ron's doing what they do best, making the news up with classic contrivance!

Best,

Matt