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Expect Hannon and Bell to duel for the Cup

I’m taking a trip to Ascot for this weekend’s preview, and focusing on the Victoria Cup.

With 27 runners currently declared, this seven-furlong handicap looks pretty competitive, and the winner, as ever, will take some finding. I’m heartened by the fact that I got lucky last year, though I admit to having had two shots at the target. Godolphin’s four-year-old Flash Fire, was the 20/1 winner in question, holding on bravely after looking likely to romp clear a furlong from home. He’d spent a winter at Meydan prior to the Spring campaign. Interestingly, the runner-up Mutawathea had spent the winter running on the all-weather.

Four-year-olds have a strong record in recent times, having won five of the past 10 renewals. Indeed, four and five-year-olds account for all-bar two of the victories in the past dozen years. Young and progressive types are therefore favoured over older more experienced sorts.

As in many large handicaps, weight carrying proves to be an important trend. Only two of the last 10 winners have carried more than 9st to victory, though last year’s renewal saw three of the first four breaking that trend. Nevertheless, the history of the race points to less exposed well handicapped sorts prevailing.

Another stat worth noting, is the poor record of favourites. Zaahid was the last to prevail in 2008, otherwise, market leaders have rarely made much of an impact. Four of the first five home last year were priced at 20/1 or above, with the top pair in the market trailing in midfield.

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Fastnet Tempest looks sure to go off favourite tomorrow. He’s certainly an unexposed type with just eight career starts, though this is only his second start over the trip. His seasonal debut at Newbury was promising, when chinned late-on in a 21-runner affair. He looked the winner that day, but wandered about in front. He’s clearly talented but has his quirks, and will have to be delivered at precisely the right moment if he is to win.

George William was a place behind him that day, having finished like a train. Trained by Richard Hannon, this four-year-old by Paco Boy is a three-time winner at the trip, and the way he finished at Newbury, suggests he’ll be suited by the stiffer Ascot track. He runs off 8-11, and I give him a great chance.

Jamie Spencer gave a stellar performance to take this race on Speculative Bid in 2015. He rides Taurean Star for Michael Bell tomorrow, with the horse and jockey looking well suited. Proven over the trip, and with two wins from four visits to the track, expect this one to be delivered as late as possible, in typical Spencer style. He’s another that looks to have the ideal profile.

The Warrior was eighth in this last year, but is 7lb lower in the handicap this time round. Still only a five-year-old, he’s been kept incredibly busy, with six runs since the end of February. He rarely wins, and has never won at the trip, and that, combined with his busy recent schedule worries me. However, I can see him going well off this handicap mark, and expect to see him flashing home late-on.

Despite the number of runners, I’m struggling to give many much of a chance. The older brigade look thoroughly exposed, with Heaven’s Guest possibly the most attractive off his current mark.

I’m left with a surprisingly short list of possible winners, and am siding with George William and Taurean Star. Both tick the appropriate trend boxes, and in a renewal, that perhaps lacks a little in quality, I strongly fancy both. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Wertheimer Brothers and those Famous Silks

Those Famous Silks

Those Famous Silks

They may not have a horse in the showpiece event but the famous Blue and White silks of the Wertheimer brothers’ will be carried in several other races during Longchamp’s most prestigious meeting.

Owners of the Chanel fashion empire in Paris, they inherited the company and the horse racing business from their father Jacques. His father Pierre had owned and bred racehorses in France from the early part of the 20th century. In 1949 he had employed a young Alec Head to train his horses. The partnership generated huge success not only in France, but in England too, winning English classics including the Derby at Epsom.

Under the guidance of Jacques Wertheimer, the business continued to thrive, with Head continuing to train numerous Group winners in France including two Prix de l’Arc victories with Ivanjica and Gold River. In the 1970’s Wertheimer expanded the thriving bloodstock enterprise, with a base at Hagyard Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. French classic winners, including Dancing Maid and Gold River became broodmares in America.

On Alec Head’s retirement, his daughter Criquette took over training responsibilities and further success followed. And when brothers Alain and Gerard took over the family enterprise the transition again proved seamless. Known as Wertheimer & Frere (Wertheimer and Brother) in Europe, the team have continued to be a dominant force in French racing. Leading breeders on three occasions, they were also champion owners in 2012 and 2013.

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In America the Wertheimer brothers took the 1993 Breeders' Cup Turf with Kotashaan. In 2003, they had further Breeders’ Cup success when Halfbridled took the Juvenile Fillies. Both horses had been trained in America by Richard Mandella. The family had further success across the Atlantic when their sensational filly Goldikova took the Breeders’ Cup Mile three years running in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Goldikova was trained by yet another of the Head family, Criquette’s brother Freddy Head. The wonderful filly probably did more than any other to make those blue and white silks famous. Dominant on home turf, especially at seven furlongs or a mile, she earned over €5 million in prize money.

A regular at Longchamp for the Arc meeting, Goldikova won the Prix de la Foret in 2010 defeating Paco Boy and Dick Turpin in a thrilling finish. In 27 career starts she was only out of the first three on one occasion, and the vast majority of those races were at the highest level. When she finally retired at the end of her six-year-old campaign, she had won an incredible 14 Group 1s.

Long term relationships have been a theme of Wertheimers’ time in racing. Another that only recently ended was that of retained jockey Olivier Peslier. A constant throughout Goldikova’s career, he also rode Solemia for connections to a shock victory in the 2012 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. It proved a day of heartbreak for Japan, when their outstanding colt Orfevre swept to the front looking a certain winner, only to be done on the line in an incredible finish.

The split with Peslier appeared amicable, and in racing as in business things change and people move on. Maxime Guyon has taken over riding responsibilities, though Peslier is still regularly called upon. The latest equine star for connections is Solow, trained by Freddy Head and likely to be seen at Ascot later this month. He appears to have taken on the mantle of Goldikova, and has proved unbeatable this year at a mile.

With around 75 horses in training, the majority now shared between Freddy Head, Andre Fabre and Carlos Laffon-Parias, the famous blue and white silks will be seen in a handful of races at Longchamp this weekend. In particular, a pair of promising juveniles will be tested in the Marcel Boussac and the Lagardere. Left Hand is a nicely bred filly and though this looks a huge step up after only one outing, the drying conditions should be in her favour if pedigree is anything to go by.

With a reputation for producing outstanding fillies, the Wertheimer brothers will be hoping for more success at France’s most prestigious meeting.

Hughes hoping for a Glorious Goodwood

A final fling for Richard Hughes

A final fling for Richard Hughes

Glorious Goodwood begins today on the beautiful Sussex Downs. The five day meeting is a firm favourite with the Flat fraternity not only for the high class racing but also for the wonderfully picturesque setting.

Backed by Qatar, the meeting is now one of the most valuable in the British race calendar with the £1million Qatar Sussex Stakes the highlight of week’s action. The mile contest sets three-year-olds against their elders and was won by the mighty Frankel in 2011 and 2012. This year’s renewal pits the Guineas winner Gleneagles against the new French sensation Solow.

Today’s showpiece is the Group 2 Lennox Stakes over a trip of seven furlongs. The race is open to horses aged three and over and was first run in 2000, with the inaugural event going to John Gosden’s Observatory.

Initially a Group 3, the race was elevated to its current status in 2003. It has been won by horses aged three, four and five, with the three-year-olds having a particularly strong record approaching a 50% strike rate.

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Paco Boy was arguably the classiest winner when taking the event for Richard Hannon senior in 2008. Quick enough to take the Prix De La Foret over six furlongs as a three-year-old, he went on to become one of the great milers of his time, winning a Queen Anne at Royal Ascot and the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. He had several titanic encounters with the wonderful French mare Goldikova, though never quite getting the better of her, he came closest in a thrilling Queen Anne Stakes in 2010.

This year’s Lennox sees another Hannon colt at the head of affairs. This time Hannon junior sends out the classy Toormore hoping to go one better than last season, when he was chinned close home by Es Que Love. Second in the Lockinge and fourth in the Queen Anne so far this season, the son of Arakan sets the standard.

Dutch Connection is his main challenger in the betting market. Charlie Hills’ three-year-old is having a terrific season, winning the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot and then finishing a close second in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly. He showed his liking for Goodwood when winning a maiden at this meeting last year and looks sure to run a huge race at what could well be his ideal trip.

An emotional Richard Hughes will be taking to the saddle for the last time this week, and he rides Hannon’s other contender in the race the three-year-old Tupi. He was behind Dutch Connection at Ascot, but appeared to improve on that performance when thumping the useful Bossy Guest at Newmarket last time.

It’s set to be another terrific week of top class racing at the wonderful Sussex track.

Hugo Palmer – Stable Continues To Thrive

Hugo Palmer

Hugo Palmer

Hugo Palmer yearned to train horses from a relatively young age. Lammtarra’s Epsom Derby success sparked the passion for racing. As a schoolboy he was privileged to work with the Queen’s private trainer Lord Huntington at West Ilsley.

From school Palmer was employed at the largest English owned Stud – Cheveley Park. His work there broadened his knowledge of the thoroughbred, gaining valuable experience of the early life of a future racehorse. Whilst at University in Newcastle he spent time working with John Warren, bloodstock advisor to Her Majesty The Queen. During that period he was fortunate enough to witness the purchase of a beautiful young colt by the name of Montjeu.

At Highclere, Palmer’s understanding of the industry was significantly enhanced. He was able to expand his knowledge of a race-horses development in their early years. Those lessons were invaluable, but the burning passion to become a successful trainer remained. A post as assistant to Patrick Chamings followed. The yard had around 40 horses in training, with the star of the stable being National Hunt horse Self Defence.

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Progression continued with a move to Hughie Morrison’s yard when taking up post as his assistant. Three successful seasons at East Ilsley followed before Palmer decided that a spell abroad was called for. Fortunate enough to gain a post with one of Australia’s great trainers Gai Waterhouse, he was entrusted to set up a satellite yard in Melbourne. The opportunity of working with one of Flat racing’s prominent figures will have afforded Palmer a huge amount of knowledge and experience as he embarked on his own training career.

Finally taking the plunge back in England in 2011, he took charge at Kremlin Cottage Stables in Newmarket. Starting out with just a handful of horses, the yard is now home to around 70. The stock continues to improve and last season Palmer enjoyed Group success when Aktabantay took the Group 3 Solario Stakes.

New Providence is set to be one of the stars for the yard this summer. Second in the Nell Gwyn in April, she followed up that performance with two further placed finishes in Group races, before a slightly disappointing run at Royal Ascot. Her proximity to Limato at Haydock in the Sandy Lane Stakes gives hope that a few valuable wins lie ahead.

At Haydock yesterday it was the two-year-old Galileo Gold providing the excitement for Palmer and his team. Handsomely bred by Paco Boy out of a Galileo mare, he could prove a very useful colt. Gifted Master is another talented juvenile with a bright future. He chased home Royal Ascot winner Buratino at Newmarket in May and followed that with a commanding display at Newcastle last week.

With over a 20% strike-rate this summer the yard is thriving, and the flow of winners continues at a pace. Hugo Palmer may have had a privileged start to his racing career, but his drive and ambition have ensured that he has the necessary foundations to craft a successful and exciting career.

The Geegeez Awards 2010

Forget the Cartier Awards. Don’t bother with the Lesters. There’s only one celebration of the year just gone that you need to attend and it's right here for you, dear reader. Presenting the 2010 Geegeez Awards... (drumroll please)

AP McCoy

AP McCoy - the real, er, McCoy...

Hero of the Year - Tony McCoy
If truth be known, I was waiting for AP to win Sports Personality of the Year before giving away any awards at all. It would have been a travesty of justice had he not won the biggest popularity contest in sport but haven’t we been saying that for the past few years? What it does show is that the wider public are taking note of not only this great man but racing itself.

I can guarantee you that the sport will gain at least a few more racegoers in 2011 because of McCoy’s victory in the BBC award - people will want to see the legend in the flesh, experience what it’s like to cheer him home. But even for those who voted against him, the win has opened their eyes to the Irishman’s talent and dedication, as well as showing them what racing has to offer. A friend of mine admitted that that he had ‘googled’ the jockey after seeing him on the awards show - he can now appreciate the man’s achievements and let’s hope a few other people do as well.

Goldikova

Goldikova - Gold Standard

Horse of the Year - Goldikova
Wow, this was a tough call. Two fillies stood out for their consistency, toughness and resilience. Both had racked up the air miles after a busy season and both had shown the world how good they really are. Snow Fairy was exceptional in 2010 - improving from maiden all-weather winner to dual Oaks victor in the space of a few months is an unbelievable upward curve but Goldikova just edged the decision.

Royal Ascot, Longchamp, the Breeders’ Cup, ‘Goldi’ raced and won at them all. Success in the latter, her third Cup, was history-making and mind-blowing. In essence, she’s a no-nonsense, do-it-all wonder-mare. The only blip came with defeat to Makfi on her hated soft ground. We’re all forgiven a few blips, and this was her only one on an otherwise unblemished record.

Rumour has it that she may even stay in training for another year. Usually I’d be delighted at such a decision but a horse like this has nothing left to prove - all the big races have been won and a retirement to breed some more superstars is surely the future she deserves.

Imperial Commander

Imperious and in Command: Gold Cup Winner 2010

Race of the Year - The Cheltenham Gold Cup
It was billed as the deciding duel between two true heavyweights of the game: Kauto Star and Denman. Alas, the bout we were promised never materialised. Instead we were left to ponder the merits of Imperial Commander’s win: was it a fluke or is this a genuine champion? It seems we will find out for certain this year.

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The race itself was a rare, edge of your seat, face behind fingers charge. Carruthers led the field at a ferocious tempo, Kauto made a horrendous mistake down the back, Denman took up the pace-setting with a circuit to run, Kauto fell heavily at the top of the hill and Imperial Commander emerged from the chaos surrounding him to land the Cup.

The three big dogs will be back for another crack this season and Paul Nicholls’ pair will be slight underdogs as they bid to regain the crown. Age may have caught up with them but they can still run most rivals ragged. The new order of steeple chasers may be emerging but the old guard can still sleep easy at night and think to themselves: “You ain’t seen nothing’ yet”.

Villain of the Year - Youmzain
Many hung jockey Mike Smith after getting the unbeaten super-filly Zenyatta beaten at the Breeders’ Cup but at least that pair had been victorious during the season.

There is an undoubtedly talented horse, one who has some of the best form in the history of horseracing yet couldn’t get his nose in front during the twelve months of 2010. Step forward Youmzain. Thrice second in the Arc (behind Zarkava, Dylan Thomas and Sea The Stars), his season highlight was a desperate loss in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud where he lunged late but couldn’t hit the front where it mattered.

Come Arc day this time around, many (including yours truly) thought, in Tim Henman style, ‘is this his year?’ The result? A miserable 10th place, and an emphatic 'Non, Monsieur!'.

Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall Award - Richard Hughes / Richard Hannon / Paco Boy
It may just be that Paco Boy was never good enough to beat the once-in-a-lifetime mare Goldikova but I beg to differ. Five times the pair met and five times ‘Goldi’ came out on top. What baffled me was why, every time, Paco Boy was held up at the back of the pack in the early stages thus gifting the French-trained filly a five length headstart? Surely it would have made more sense to sit on her tail, let her do all the donkey work and then pounce in the shadow of the post. Cop on lads!

Khajaaly wins Wolverhampton 10th December 2010

Cathy all smiles atop Khajaaly

Most Improved Horse of the Year Award - Khajaaly
Now there may be just a hint of home bias here (ahem), but the Geegeez Racing Club had plumbed the depths before rising to new heights, and our first ever win, when Khajaaly fair bolted up at Wolverhampton on 19th November. That he was 25/1 doesn't tell the full story. All members were told that he was fancied, and most members got stuck in, leaving bookies tending some fairly gaping financial wounds.

Worse was to follow for the bookies, as our 'Charlie' followed up on 10th December, this time as the 3/1 favourite, backed in from 4's.

That double victory looked extremely unlikely for those fellow members who were present at Kempton (10th of 11) or Lingfield (9th of 10) prior to Charlie's break. We now know our boy needs a rest between his runs, and he'd clearly been overraced previously.

There's 50 of us hoping he starts the New Year the way he finished the old one. Of course, he owes us nothing now, but we'll still be hoping for 'thirds' in the coming weeks.
And here’s a few more moments I won’t forget in a hurry:

- Jacqueline Quest losing the 1000 Guineas in the stewards’ room. Your heart had to go out for her paralysed owner, Noel Martin.

- Johnny Murtagh bulldozing half the field to bag the far rail on Starspangledbanner in the July Cup.

- Everyone scratching their heads and asking ‘how did that happen?’ when Sole Power won the Nunthorpe at 100/1.

- Restless Harry’s bone-crunching fall when going well in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival. It was a relief to see him walk away unscathed.

- Veteran Well Chief rolling back the years by beating Master Minded at Cheltenham.

Ross Birkett

Hannon Praises Paco Boy After Retirement

Trainer Richard Hannon has praised his charge Paco Boy after the decision was made to retire the star miler to stand at Highclere Stud, after his Breeders' Cup outing.

Paco Boy

Paco Boy

Earning over £1million in prize money, the five year old had 23 starts and was successful on 11 occasions, including three in Group One company.

It was to his misfortune however, that on five of those outings he was up against the brilliant Goldikova.

"Paco Boy was not only one of my favourite horses but certainly one of the best that we have had on the place," said the trainer.

"He got a mile well, but he had speed to burn and it was his terrific turn of foot in that final furlong that differentiated him from an ordinary horse.

"What's more, you could not ask for a nicer individual. He would do anything for you, and he was the most genuine horse in the world - I suppose that is why I got so emotional when he won the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last year as he has always meant so much to me.

"Paco Boy's 11 victories included three Group Ones, and he would have won a lot more had it not been for a certain Goldikova, but he never took a lame step all the time he was here and his soundness and undoubted ability should ensure that he is much in demand as a stallion.

"I am certainly looking forward to having a few of Paco's first crop, and if he can pass on some of his attributes to his progeny then he ought to prove very popular at stud," he said on his website, www.richardhannonracing.tv.

Paco Boy Ready to Challenge Goldikova Again

This season has seen the Richard Hannon trained Paco Boy challenge rival Goldikova on three occasions, each ending in defeat.

Richard Hannon

Richar Hannon

The Breeders' Cup Mile, to be held at Churchill Downs on Saturday night will be attempt number four to best the star mare, with the trainer hoping that this time the outcome will be different.

The draw of 10 that Goldikova has been handed has given him some relief ahead of the prestigious event, with Hannon Jr commenting, "We've had three tries this year and haven't managed it. I don't like to make excuses but she's (Goldikova) not drawn very well this time which is to our advantage. I wouldn't wish it on her but it's happened and I think Paco Boy will like the track. If they go very quick it will suit him.

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Jockey Ryan Moore will stand in for the originally booked Richard Hughes, who stayed in the UK to chasing the jockeys' title, aboard Paco Boy for the event, the trainer's son said, "Ryan loves the horse, he goes very well on him, it's a shame Hughesie can't make it but at the moment he's decided to concentrate on the championship back home."

"Ryan thinks he's in very good form and we certainly won't give Goldikova as much air space as we did at Longchamp last time."

Hannon Jr continued, "He cantered this morning seven furlongs and is fine, he's in good nick. He was on the dirt and will probably have a go on the grass tomorrow. He looks great and has hung onto his coat very well. He had a few easy days when he arrived and is in good form."

He added, "I do think it's between the two of them, they've probably got it between them and while you have to respect the other horses it's probably seen as a match between them. They have so much history in Europe but we still have hope. The ground was too soft at Deauville, we gave her too much rope at Ascot and then went to Paris where we were drawn badly and came from a different county to be just touched off.

"The formbook says Paco Boy probably won't win but it's his last run for us, he has a heart as big as a lion and I hope, and expect, he'll run well. We have a better draw than Goldikova and we won't be letting her out of our sights."

Arc Weekend 2010 Preview

Sea The Stars

Sea The Stars wins the 2009 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

It's like Royal Ascot without the pomp. It's top, top class racing without the premium. It's like the ultimate horse racing busman's holiday. Yes, dear reader, some 15,000 Brits will decamp to Paris and the Bois de Boulogne this weekend for the magnificent racing spectacle that is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the Arc meeting is better than Royal Ascot. I don't think it is. But it has one massive feather in its chapeau: timing. It's a bit like the old witches in Macbeth (and apologies to literature scholars as I butcher this quote) -

"When the hurly burly's done, when the battle's lost and won, where the place? Upon the heath. There to meet with...."

The hurly burly of the flat season is pretty much done, most of the battles have been lost and won, and now at Longchamp it's time for a final 'coming together' of the clans.

[OK, so with hindsight it wasn't such a great analogy!]

Anyway, my point in all this bluster is that coming as it does at the tail of the flat season, Longchamp has an advantage of bringing together all the previously - and, in my opinion, generally prematurely - crowned champions for a race off.

All ages, all sexes, all distances: over two days, there are eleven races of Group 2 or higher standard, and SEVEN Group 1's on Sunday!

Last year, the cherry on top was Sea The Stars defying all threats to prevail. Below is my little video of that amazing day. I can't get there this year, but will be watching and cheering from home, and wishing I was in amongst the throng of Brits abroad, united for once with our French cousins in admiration and battle of the equine superstars and with the totalisator windows respectively.

********

It's been said that this year's feature race is a poor renewal, but the winners of all three major European Derby's are set to line up against a host of established older horses, including triple runner up, Youmzain, and last year's second favourite (and probably this year's too), Fame And Glory. So, whilst there's no Sea The Stars in there, I don't agree that the race is sub-standard.

But we'll get to that in due course. First, let's find Saturday's winners... 😉

Saturday

2.40 Prix Chaudenay (1m7f)

A Group 2 for the stayers. Andre Fabre is responsible for four of the nine entries, with Alain de Royer-Dupre saddling two of the remainder. Sole British interest comes from Hughie Morrison's Caucus, whose hat-trick of bronze medals in lower grade don't look quite good enough here.

The two I'll be concentrating on are the Fabre form horses, Brigantin and Goldwaki. The former won a Group 3 over course and distance last time in what was a bit of a crawl (far from uncommon in French staying races), and that is easily the pick of the distance form. Although that was on good ground, Brigantin also has plenty of form on much more sodden surfaces, so the state of the turf should be no problem.

Goldwaki is the class of the race, with a four race winning streak being broken when he stepped up to Group 1 company and bumped into a chap called Behkabad, to whom he gave best by nigh on six lengths. That is much better than a number of the other contenders here, who have had a far more distant view of Behkabad's rump in races this season!

I do have a slight doubt about Goldwaki's ability to stay, even in a falsely run race. But, if he does, he'll be tough to beat. Otherwise, and probably the value in any case, a small each way tickle on Brigantin might garner a return.

Selection: Goldwaki

Danger: Brigantin

3.15 Prix de Royallieu (1m 4 1/2f)

The second Group 2 on tomorrow's warm up card is the Prix de Royallieu, over just more than a mile and a half. It's one for the ladies and, again, features a single Brit raider: this time, Johnny G's High Heeled.

Andre Fabre has won this four times in the last eight years, and he saddles Announce, unbeaten in her three starts, this time. She doesn't win her races by far (all by half a length or less), but she's tenacious for one so inexperienced, and has track, trip and going form. She will be very hard to pass once more.

Of the rest, the G-meister's High Heeled has smart form behind Fame And Glory in the Coronation Cup, and not beaten far by Midday in the Prix Vermailles last time. But she's finding away wins tougher than at home and, whilst she could run well, I wouldn't be betting that she will do so.

The danger to Announce may well come from HRH Aga Khan's Shamanova. This young lady has had six races and is yet to be out of the first two. Her problem is that she is accumulating rather a lot of silver in her medal collection, with four such badges from those half dozen runs.

That said, she's been beaten less than a length on her last three starts, and she looks sure to run close again. I'm predicting a repeat of the Prix Minerve - Shadwell here.

Selection: Announce

Danger: Shamanova

3.50 Prix Dollar (1m 2f ish)

Open to three year olds and up, the Prix Dollar is a Group 2 run over just shy of a mile and a quarter, and has been a decent race for the Brits with three wins in the last decade, and plenty more prior to that. Again, it's dear old Johnny G (that's John Gosden lest you were wondering) who has the best record.

Alas, he's not represented this time around, and the home contingent (that's our home, not the French home...) rests it's hopes on Messrs Cox and Tate, or Clive and Tom to their mates.

CC has the five year old, Poet, whose best form is all over this trip on soft ground. Unfortunately, that form is also at a slightly lower level, with no success above the Group 3 bar. In what looks a warm if not hot contest, it's tricky to imagine him beating all-comers, though he ought to run a sound enough race with conditions to suit.

TT has the ultra-consistent four year old, Distant Memories. This chap has been in the first three in ten of his twelve career starts, and all of his last eight. Again, trip and ground look plum and, as a Group 3 winner last time out, he looks deserving of this step up in grade.

This race has a truly international flavour about it, with the ten starters representing UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia!

And it's one of the less fashionable nations I'm going to side with here, as I plump for the bounding Czech, Shamalgan. Despite being yet another weekend runner to have seen only the hind quarters of Behkabad, and even then from a remote range, Shamalgan's form at shorter trips than he encountered that day put him right in the mix here.

Third in the French Guineas behind Lope De Vega - top class form - he was also an unlucky runner up to Shimraan, beaten a quarter length and with our own useful Xtension more than three lengths behind.

The trip might be ideal, the ground is fine, and he ought to be any price you like.

In truth, there are few in the race that one could readily discount. For example, I've not even mentioned the obvious chances of Shimraan and Cima De Triomphe. But I feel that in a race where almost any of the runners could prevail, value lies in a fat priced dark 'un.

Selection: Shamalgan

Danger: All the rest!

4.25 Prix Daniel Wildenstein (1m)

Closing out the quartet of Group 2's on Saturday's card is the Prix Daniel Wildenstein, over a mile. It has been something of a Godolphin benefit in recent times, with the 'boys in blue' winning four times since 1998.

Consequently, their Emerald Commander demands respect. Second in the Group 1 Criterium International on his final 2yo start, the Commander has had a mercurial three year old career, perhaps echoing the fortunes of his stable.

In four runs this season, he's managed to win twice in Group company: a Group 3 over nine furlongs here in France, and a Group 2 last time out in Germany. His defeats were on debut, when beaten a length by two much fitter horses, and over a mile and a quarter, where - as a son of Pivotal - he probably didn't stay.

Back under optimal conditions, he'll be hard to beat, despite the absence of Frankie in the plate.

Again, there are lots of dangers. The one that might be the pick though is Elusive Wave, a Group 1 winner over the track and trip last May. She's a consistent winning performer, and will serve it up to the Commander, if things go as I suspect.

But I'm taking Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor to continue his late season salvation mission on what has been an otherwise disappointing term with a win here.

Selection: Emerald Commander

Danger: Elusive Wave

Sunday

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Group 1 Sunday features seven top grade races, and the winners will all be champions. First up it's the marathoners...

12.05 Prix du Cadran (2m4f)

Two and a half miles to go here, and not a terrible race for the Brits... but not a great one either. To win this, it goes without saying that you need stamina, stamina and a drop more stamina.

Marcus Tregoning's Askar Tau has run three times on soft ground and been stuffed out of sight each time. He surely can't win this.

Kasbah Bliss is eight years young now and, whilst a number of seven year olds have bagged the Cadran, no octogenarian has done the biz. He's been beaten in this the last two years (albeit by a short head last term), and I can't see him having the legs even in this high class plodathon.

The interesting ones to me are Blek and Gentoo.

Blek has plenty of decent Group form up to two miles, though not in Group 1 company. He must have both stamina and class doubts but, despite those significant reservations, he is clearly a robust sort who has taken plenty of racing well.

Gentoo looks a thorough stayer and has done very well both time he's been stepped up to two miles - winning both, including a Group 3 last time out when he had Kasbah Bliss and 2008 Cadran winner, Bannaby, well seen off.

Although thoroughly exposed at shorter trips, he looks to have improved markedly for the step up in distance and, if continuing that improvement for the extra half mile here, he will be a value bet against some more fashionable rivals.

Selection: Gentoo

Danger: Blek

12.35 Prix de l'Abbaye (5f)

Always a mad cavalry charge, and almost always a British winner. The problem is that it's not normally a 'fancied' runner that wins. Lady of the Desert is a ridiculous (in my opinion) 5/2 for this and, whilst she might win it, where's the up side of backing her?! Let's put it like this: she's never won on soft ground, and she hasn't won over five furlongs since her debut is a weak maiden. Lay material...

Next in the betting is the altogether more compelling punting proposition, Swiss Diva. Although 3/1 is still skinny in a race like this, at least the Diva has plenty to recommend her. She's won her last three races, all in France and all on ground softer than good. Two of those wins were over five furlongs and two of them were by more than two lengths.

In a match bet, which would you want to be on?!!

Last year's winner, Total Gallery, is next in at around 9/1 and, whilst he was second in a Listed race on heavy, the balance of his form suggests he has a ready preference for firmer underfoot conditions.

So who are the soft ground five furlong specialists? Good question.

Arctic looked progressive in his first three runs (and wins) last season, before coming unstuck on firmer ground since. The 33/1 in a couple of spots probably won't last. I've had a little...

Judge N'Jury is another with very good handicapping form (a plus in this race) and plenty of minimum trip soft ground form. He's 100/1 but don't dismiss him on that basis. He'll have much more in his favour than most of these. I'd love 10/1 that he beats Lady of the Desert!

2008 winner Marchand d'Or may be past his best now, but he could be good for one last turn. He won't be for me, but he could go well. Probably the pick of the home team (i.e. the Frenchies) is Planet Five. Pascal Bary's sprinter had looked good when winning a Group 2 over five, so it was no surprise when he was trounced stepped up in class and trip to a seven furlong Group 1.

Back in the right distance, he has soft ground Group race form over the minimum. 16's is fair.

And that's your lot! The rest have all shown a preference for further or faster or both.

I might look an idiot (again!) by Sunday tea time, but I'm siding with the rags and the Diva.

Selection: Arctic

Danger: Swiss Diva

Exacta combo's: Arctic, Swiss Diva, Judge N'Jury, Marchand d'Or, Planet Five

1.10 Prix Marcel Boussac (1m)

A mile for juvenile fillies and usually a very good race. Six Perfections, Divine Proportions, and Zarkava have grabbed this en route to greater things, and I wonder who might be the lass to follow this year.

Misty For Me may go off favourite, but she has yet to race on a soft surface or over a mile. Whilst I'd have no real worries about her staying, the ground may be against her. Moreover, her trainer's record is not brilliant given some of the fillies he's aimed at this pot.

Pontenuovo is bred to stay the trip but the way she gave best over six furlongs the last day (albeit in the Group 1 Prix Morny) is a slight concern. If she does stay, she's got tidy form in the book already.

But the likely one to beat is Helleborine, who grabbed her third win from three starts when hosing up by five lengths over course and distance, and on soft ground.

There are plenty of unexposed beasties in here, and maybe (just maybe!) the pick will prove to be Freddie Head's Galikova. A sister to Goldikova, who has few / no peers in the lady miler ranks, Galikova cantered home oozing class on her debut over course, distance, ground. But.. that was a 'nothing' contest in the context of this contest. She'll need to improve, she's bound to improve, and she could well improve past the lot of 'em!

Selection: Helleborine

Danger: Galikova

1.45 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium) (7f)

Staying with the babies, this time it's a seven furlong contest for both sexes. If Aidan O'Brien has a 'normal' record in the preceding fillies' race, he has an exceptional record here, having won this a whopping seven times since 1997!

It comes as something of a surprise then that his sole representative here is the exposed Samuel Morse. SM's five length fourth to Pathfork and Casamento in the National Stakes is high class form, but there ought to be something better than him here.

To be honest, I've no angle in here, and this race looks one to watch rather than punt in. No more than the most token of suggestions is Tin Horse, owned by the Marquesa de Moratalla, who was - I believe - the owner of that magnificent chaser, The Fellow.

He is bred to stay further than seven furlongs (Tin Horse, not The Fellow - although he was too!), and so his second in the aforementioned Prix Morny is all the more impressive as that was just six furlongs.

If I had to have a bet, I'd go with him. But I don't, so I'll be keeping my powder dry.

Selection: Tin Horse (token suggestion)

Danger: too many to mention

Paco Boy

Paco Boy has optimum conditions on Sunday

2.20 Prix de la Foret (7f)

Same trip, but for older nags this time. Arguably the race of the entire meeting, with Goldikova taking on Paco Boy, Dick Turpin, Siyouni, Special Duty and Joanna (if they all stand their ground).

This is the race in which Goldikova was rolled-ik-over last year, en route to Breeders Cup Mile win number two. She was short of fitness and short of her optimum trip then, and the same statements apply this time.

That defeat was her only ever try at seven furlongs, and I'd be against her again. She's probably low liability lay material.

Paco Boy on the other hand is optimally suited by seven furlongs and a small field, as a five from five record proves. That includes a win in this race in 2008, and he must be primed for a very good run.

Dick Turpin is an extremely good miler in the Classic generation, and finally got the big race win he deserved when bashing Siyouni in the Prix Jean Prat by four lengths. I wonder if this step back in trip is what he wants, though, and ready preference is for the Boy called Paco.

Watch this race. It should be one to savour. 🙂

Selection: Paco Boy

Danger: Dick Turpin

3.05 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (1m4f)

The race of races. The blue riband middle distance race in Europe. And, for all the protestations to the contrary, it comfortably passes muster as a strong renewal, in my opinion at least.

I've written about this race at length elsewhere (click here for the lowdown), and suffice it to say I'm already invested in the favourite at a time when he was not favoured... Come on Behkabad!!!

Selection: Behkabad

Dangers: Planteur, Fame And Glory

4.35 Prix de l'Opera (1m2f)

A high class race but won by a rag, tag and bobtail collection of horses, including Pat Haslam's Kinnaird in 2005 and Mick Ryan's Diamond White back in 1999. As such, it's probably not a race to bet on, and I don't really have a view.

The quartet I'd be focusing on are Stacelita, Antara, Rosanara and Lily Of The Valley. Of those, Stacelita is a very good filly, and might be the pick. But I'll not be supporting that statement with anything so worthy as cash!

Selection: Stacelita

Danger: Rosanara

Whether you're punting or not this weekend, there's no doubt that the French racing offers some supreme sport for us horse fans and, if you're lucky enough to be at the track, leave a comment next week with your experiences. I'm very jealous!

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Away from the racing, a couple of quick despatches.

Firstly, well done if you got aboard the Footyplans service. There were some admin problems as predicted, and Kevin's had to close the doors slightly early. He's actually got around 85 people signed up, and has to manage a couple of issues before re-opening.

If you didn't manage to get on board, and intended to, rest assured you'll get first refusal here when the problems are resolved. Kevin (and I) thanks you for your patience and understanding.

Secondly, a possible scam has been brought to my attention by regular contributor, David Dickinson (not the 'cheap as chips' one... at least I don't think so).

Anyway, flippancy aside, he was approached by a chap with a tip contained in an email. The tip, White Moonstone, duly won. Not a great tip at 4/5, but a winner's a winner.

Unfortunately, David's pal also received an email from the same guy... with a different horse selected!!!!

This scam is as old as the hills, and was replicated most entertainingly recently by Derren Brown on telly, and you need to be really wary.

The cad's name is 'Tommy Whelan', though of course next week he'll be called something else. Basically, if you get an unsolicited tip in an email one day, and then a request for money from the same source soon after, tread very, very carefully.

That's all from me today. I'm off to find a quiet corner to watch golf and horse racing. Life is good! :D3

Matt

p.s. what's your best bet of the weekend? Leave a comment below, and share the wealth!

Oh Boy, He’s Good!

It was a proper roller-coaster weekend on the betting front, dear reader, with more downs than ups for this scribe. Today I’ll share my weekend woes with weaders… Plus, I’ve got some exciting news of what I think is my best freebie ever…

Let’s start with the horse-y action just passed. And what a weekend of racing that was!

The highlight on Saturday was unquestionably the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes from Newbury. A mile was the test for the nine participants, headed this year by the brilliant Paco Boy. In opposition was a range of equine talent, from the improving Zacinto through placed and winning horses at Royal Ascot in Lord Shanakill and Ouqba respectively, to hardy campaigners like Pipedreamer (a Group 2 winner on Arc day last year).

Paco Boy was sent off the favourite last year – backed in from 7/4 to 11/8 – having previously won the Sandown Mile in a canter. This term, he used exactly the same prep race and won in equally facile style. Punters, whose memories may be shorter than the average elephant, piled in again on Saturday, as Paco’s odds contracted from 4/5 to a starting price of 8/11.

In the event, it was a two horse contest which, with hindsight, was a one horse race.

The opening skirmishes saw Stimulation and Price of Dance remind people that they’d shown up for the race, before Lord Shanakill took  over with a quarter mile to run. Now in the care of ‘Sir’ Henry Cecil, the good Lord was quickly usurped by two horses coming from opposite sides of the field.

On the near side, Paco Boy, who’d been sitting as quiet as a very quiet mouse in the naughty corner for talking, and who’d been told to be quiet. On the far side, the more strenuously ridden Ouqba, who responded very well for Richard Hills’ encouragement.

Indeed, Ouqba nicked first run and might have caught Richard Hughes, aboard Paco Boy, napping with 150 yards to go. Luckily for Hughesie, when he asked Paco to lengthen, the response was extremely impressive.

Zacinto never got into the race and was eased up last.

If you’ve never seen a Group 1 race won on the bridle before, then this was very nearly the day. In case you missed the race,  here’s a video of Paco Boy’s imperious run.

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I had backed Ouqba place only, making Paco a certainty, and got a nice 3/1 for my wager. Obviously, after the event I was wishing I’d done the forecast, but that’s life.

Something to note about Paco Boy with Royal Ascot in mind: he’s won eleven out of the twelve times he’s raced in a field of ten or less (and was second on the other occasion). He’s lost each and every one of the six times he’s faced more rivals than that.

If the Queen Anne Stakes has a big field, I’d be wary of piling into Paco at short odds.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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Then it was off to France on Sunday for the Gallic Guineas. And my luck took a plummeting nosedive akin to the vertiginous drop on The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach!

In the ladies’ version, there were two horses trained by a bloke few have heard of, but whose record in the race includes two recent wins with very similar types.

So I backed both of his, figuring that all horses are pretty unexposed at this level and he knows what the score is when trying to win here.

I was so right, I couldn’t have been more right, with his Liliside winning a rough race by a head, and his Baine finishing a might unlucky third, having almost hit the deck when running into a horse in front of her and then having the second favourite, Joanna, veer across her close home.

But you don’t always get paid for being right. As is often the case abroad, the lights on the results board went on, and a stewards’ enquiry was called. In fairness, it was a rough race, and Liliside had extricated herself from a pocket with a tactical manoevre that might have been overlooked here (and might not, under the strangely inconsistent rules / stewarding we have in place) but was never going to pass undetected in Paris.

Liliside was booted out, and who should be awarded the race? You guessed it: the self same horse that was awarded the Newmarket 1000 Guineas two short weeks ago. Special Duty has now failed to win in three starts this season and yet finds herself a dual Guineas winner!

It can’t be right and, whilst the decisions of the stewards in one – possibly both – cases were correct, there certainly seems to be a lack of lustre about Special Duty’s status currently. Hopefully, she’ll be able to win a prestigious race before the end of the season without assistance from the beaks.

To add further insult to my financial injury, Baine was then promoted to an unlucky 2nd from an unlucky 3rd, meaning I not only backed the disqualified winner, but I also backed the eventual unlucky runner-up, and didn’t get paid on either!

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In the chaps’ version, I sided with the Newmarket form and had a reasonable bet on the highwayman, Dick Turpin, to stand and deliver. I also followed up by idiot bet on Buzzword at Newmarket, with an idiot bet on Buzzword here…

As it transpired, dandy Dick T ran a bobby dazzler again, and again had to settle for silver behind a Frenchie. The pair of them pulled clear in another rough looking race, but there was no fluke about the winner’s performance.

Lope de Vega was drawn 15, which is widely considered to be an impossible draw at this track / trip. Scrimmaging inside of him certainly would have aided his cause, but he still had a mountain to climb from the ‘car park’.

He was given a fine ride and quickened away nicely.

Interestingly, the third home was an unconsidered Czech horse called Shamalgan. By English Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand, out of Unfuwain mare, this looked a solid performance, and he might be a dark one to look out for perhaps at Royal Ascot in a few weeks time.

Buzzword was 4th at 46/1 and might win a good race yet.

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Just time to tell you that tomorrow, I’ll be releasing what I think is probably my finest freebie ever. Of course, I’ll let you collectively be the judge, but suffice it to say that if you thought a system that had found a 66/1 winner (Handicap Chase Outsiders) was good, this one trumps it!

I’ll say no more now, but look out for an email tomorrow telling you from where to download the goodness. :)

Bye for now,

Matt

Glorious Goodwood: Five Horses To Follow This Week…

There is hardly a meeting in the year, dear reader, that is as well named as Glorious Goodwood. Quite simply, it's one of the most beautiful tracks in the world, and it hosts some of the most compelling and competitive racing action of the season. Moreover, it doesn't take itself too seriously, which is a welcome change from some of the pomposity demonstrated at the big Summer meetings.

I'll be there on Friday, joining friends for beer and betting and extremely protracted and unreliable journeys on the rattler from 'Smokey'.

But the action starts tomorrow, and I've picked out five horses I'm looking to back this week. You might want to note them too (and you might not...!)

The first thing to say is that the forecast is for persistent light rain. The current going is goodto firm, but this will likely ease to good ground. That said, it could wind up softer. And it could ride a little dead if the top loosens up as a result of the rain.

In essence, what I'm saying is that it's difficult to predict how the ground will be, so the following is based on an expectation of going conditions in the good - good to soft spectrum...

OK, caveat aside, let's get to the races.

Tuesday

Gordon Stakes

A good barometer for the St Leger, this 12 furlong race for 3yo's is a Group 3, and is due off at 2.45. Given that introduction,  it's not surprising that most winners have a 'late maturing' profile. That is, they had light juvenile campaigns (or no juvenile campaign in the case of 2006 Gordon Stakes / St Leger winner, Sixties Icon).

One such lightly raced horse is Sir Michael Stoute's Harbinger, who last ran at Chester's May meeting. Sir Michael's horses are in brilliant form, as evidenced by the 1-2-3 he saddled in Ascot's feature race on Saturday (that clean sweep of the podium positions was led by last year's Gordon Stakes/ St Leger double winner, Conduit).

On official ratings, Harbinger has a lot to find with the likes of Derby third (and Irish Derby 4th), Masterofthehorse (now under new and interesting stewardship) and Firebet.

But of course, our chap is thoroughly unexposed, and if Stoute thinks this is the race for him, it's highly likely this is one of his main hopes for the St Leger. Indeed, he's as low as 7/1 for the latter race.

Masterofthehorse has been taken out of the betting by most firms after moving to an unfashionable trainer by his new owner, and it seems that plans for this one are more likely to revolve around a dirt campaign in the middle east.

Regarding the state of the ground and Harbinger's preferences, although he's won on good to firm (in fact, it was like a road at Chester in May), both his parents had a marked preference for softer terrain. Assuming that predilection has been a genetic 'hand me down', then Harbinger will improve for a bit more 'give'.

He'll need to in order to beat some quite high class opponents, but my cash is on Stoute-y bringing home the bacon.

Wednesday

Sussex Stakes

One of the features of the week is Wednesdy's Group 1 Sussex Stakes, run over a mile and featuring a match between the Classic generation and the older brigade. Although final entries have not been posted as I write, the intended runners are mostly known.

Aidan O'Brien has five of the twelve remaining entries and, whilst Rockhampton was on pacemaking duties at the weekend and will likely not run, the other quartet will probably start. Much O'Brien's best chance is Rip Van Winkle, and his trainer's record in the race (three wins in the last decade) demands respect.

Also entered is the lightly raced and exceptional filly, Ghanaati. She's a dual Group 1 winner against her own age and sex, and this marks a significant step up in terms of competition. That said, she's trounced her opposition on her last three starts and deserves to be here. How I'd love to see her take on Rachel Alexandra at Santa Anita in November (remember, she was a six length winner on the dirt at Kempton as a 2yo, so we know she'll act on the surface).

Forgotten Voice was a laughably easy winner of the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot, but was extremely disappointing when losing his unbeaten record just eleven days ago. There may have been excuses that day, but even so this one's another leaping up in class.

Lord Shanakill's win in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly last time out was a welcome fillip for naughty naughty trainer, Karl Burke. He's clearly very good, but again I think he's probably not quite up to muster for an all age 'feature' Group 1 like this. (That said, he also ran a cracker in defeat behind Mastercraftsman and Delegator at Royal Ascot the time before).

Which leaves me with Paco Boy. The seven furlong specialist. Who keeps winning Group races over a mile. And who might have won the July Cup over six furlongs, but for the unsuitably fast ground and being given too much to do when held up. Well, neither of those issues, nor the trip, will be a problem to Paco on Wednesday, and he must surely win the races.

He's my idea of the best bet of the week at 4/1 with Skybet (just 11/4 with Coral).

Thursday

Your first 30 days for just £1

Goodwood Cup

The stayers get their four minutes in the spotlight on Thursday, as the Group 2 Goodwood Cup is staged as the feature event on the card. It's doubtful that the roof will be raised in quite the same fashion as it was when Double Trigger won his third Goodwood Cup, back in 1998 (is it really 11 years ago?!), but the race is sure to be a spectacle again.

Octogenarian Caracciola (try saying that with a mouth full of sherbet dibdabs!) would be an unbelievable story, were he to win at the fully pensionable age of 12 and for his new trainer, Barry Hills. (His old trainer, one Nicky Henderson, currently being banned from the training ranks for naughty naughtiness - even if you're a training blueblood, it's not OK to administer performance-enhancing drugs to your beasts. Well done the Jockey Club, in my opinion. And look out Karl Burke - your year ban will likely be longer post-appeal. Silly Billy.)

To be honest, this has never been a race in which I've enjoyed much fortune, and I doubt that situation will resolve itself come Thursday tea time.

Despite the pessimism then, I'll row in with Schiaparelli, if he runs. He ran really well when beaten only half a length over a mile and a half last time and, being a very stoutly bred German horse, he'll likely have no problem with either the extended trip (two miles) or any ease in the turf. My only worry would be if he was sent off in front again - surely he'll be held up a tad more this time.

Apparently, he has a high head carriage, but Goodwood is one of those idiosyncratic tracks that makes monkeys focus, so I wouldn't worry too much about that.

Friday

totesport Mile

As previously alluded to, I'll be there on Friday, and don't expect much in the way of sense out of me on the day. Although I usually do ok, it's more down to luck than judgment, as it will definitely be a 'social' visit to the track.

The totesport Mile has been a kind race to me over recent years, and I'll be hopeful to trouble the satchel-bearer again this time around. Despite the number of runners, this rarely goes to an outsider. In fact, in the last decade, the biggest priced winner was just 12/1, and and there have been six winners at 7/1 or shorter (including the five).

This is one of the most draw dependant handicaps of the year. The last four years winners were drawn

20, 20, 16, 16

And the placed horses drawn high also fared well (last year was an incredible 20-19-18-17-16!, then 20-14-13, 16-15-11, 16-13-6-15).

If you're not drawn high, you probably won't win this.

And 3yo's are out too. Although Roger Charlton won last year with a horse this age, no other has prevailed in the last ten years, and they make up about a quarter of runners on average.

4 and 5 year olds are the age groups to focus on (5 wins and 3 wins respectively), and the official rating band of the last ten winners is 87 to 103. Age takes out 19 of the 36 declared runners, and ratings remove a further four, leaving us with a more manageable 13.

Looking at those who are likely to be near the top of the market helps whittle the protagonists still further, and the remaining subset I'm interested in are:

Acrostic, Dubais Touch, Huzzah, Alfathaa, and Axiom.

Of these, we need to look to the draw. Any of the shortlist drawn 15 or higher would be of serious interest.

But, gun to head, I'd be hoping Alfathaa gets a plum draw. His profile profile looks perfect, after close up runs in both the Royal Hunt Cup (badly drawn) and the Coral Challenge Handicap won by Mirrored (given too much to do and difficult passage). He is something of a hold up beast, which may not be ideal, and he'll need more than a bit of luck, which animals often don't get in this race. For all that, I reckon he's a very good each way chance at around 16/1.

Saturday

Stewards Cup

Saturday's racing sees the Stewards Cup, a six furlong cavalry charge, bring down the curtain on the week's frivolities. If you're still alive by then, let's see what gives...

At this stage there are just the 131 entries... So let's chop 'em down to size!

9/10 winners in the last decade were 4 or 5 yo's (the exception was 6). We lose 65, leaving us 67. Halfway there already. 😉

8/10 winners carried between 8-09 and 9-07 in weights, so it's clear that lightweights don't normally win. 24 left in. Note of extreme caution here - if the weights go up, as they may do, the cut-off I used will be incorrect.

9/10 winners were officially rated 91 to 102, meaning we can try to lose another six. We've still got eighteen left in.

There are six likely non-runners, which leaves us with a dozen.

6/10 were in the first three last time out (5/10 first two), but that's a pretty tenuous stat, so we'll park it for now.

8/10 were drawn in a double figure stall, the exceptions being boxed in 8 and 1 respectively. Further 20 of the 30 runners to make the frame were drawn 15+ and 16 of these (53.33%) were drawn 20+. With the draw, it's never quite that simple however, and the last two runnings have seen the first three berthed thus: 14-3-1 and 11-7-25.

I still suspect that middle to high is the place to be, so factor that in once the draw is known.

If we focus on those who were placed last time out (which may be dangerous), we're left with three: Hamish McGonagall, Sonny Red and Mac Gille Eoin.

Assuming the draw is favourable, I'd like to be with Hamish. His trainer (Tim Easterby) won the race in 2001 with Guinea Hunter, a 33/1 shot, and this one may well start at the same odds.

Best of luck this week from Geegeez for Gee Gee (Glorious Goodwood)

Matt

p.s. What's your bet of the week?

p.p.s. Do you like my new 'gallery' thingie at the top of the site (not on the blog page, but all others)?

Horse Racing’s January…

As many racing commentators have observed, dear reader, this is a very funny time in the racing year. The jumps season officially ended on Saturday, with the Bet365 Gold Cup; and the flat season really gets underway this weekend with the 1000 and 2000 Guineas meeting at HQ.

Factor in that Punchestown will stage their NH Festival meeting this week - probably the best Festival in the Irish racing calendar - and it's certainly a week of transience for us racing fans.

The aforementioned Bet365 Gold Cup, formerly the Whitbread, was a pretty shabby affair if truth be told, and it's not hard to see why this 'feature' race has had so much flux in terms of the sponsor in recent years. Despite the relatively low quality of the field, there can be no doubting that it was a tremendous spectacle.

That man A P McCoy, whose horses became 'never lay' material after the imperious 'never say die' ride aboard the late Wichita Lineman at Cheltenham in March, underlined and emboldened the case for not opposing his mounts with a further peerless performance of potency, power and panache aboard Carl Llewellyn's Hennessy.

The beast was well backed, but also looked well beat down the far side second time around. No matter, for SuperMc nipped into a phonebox in a quiet corner of Esher, pulled his underpants over his breeches, fastened his red cape and rallied his reluctant steed to new heights. Mostly metaphorically, of course. (Not sure where this is going, so I'll just truncate the Superman metaphor at this point, and move on...)

On the same card at Sandown, we saw this year's Breeders Cup Mile winner in action. Paco Boy had been something of a 7f specialist prior to Saturday's authoritative win (always holding the placed horses, and brought to the front soon enough, in my opinion). But in taking the Group 2 Bet365 Mile on Sandown's stiff oval, Paco has show he has what it takes to win in Santa Anita.

Of course, it's a long old way to SoCal in late October from here, and the proximity of Longchamps' Prix de la Foret may scupper my transatlantic wagering hopes. But, if he gets to Santa Anita, he'll be fair tough to beat!

Over at Navan yesterday, the legend that is Yeats put in a rare stinker in the Listed Vintage Crop Stakes. He was apparently blowing very hard after the race, meaning he likely will come on for the race. At eight years old now though, it's not impossible his legs have gone. That being the case, and assuming his seeds have not, the old boy - who is still in possession of his meat and two veg - may make up into a spectacular NH sire. You heard it here first... (Unfortunately, I'll probably have to wait at least five years to crow about this particular piece of clairvoyancy!)

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Your first 30 days for just £1

To this week, and what a week! Punchestown's punting and drinking marathon starts tomorrow, and those that plan to be there for the duration had better ration their powder if they've any hopes of survival. It's truly a test for a thorough stayer, and many will pull up / fall / unseat rider / run out long before Saturday's 5.05 race has concluded. (Incidentally, for the 'iron man' marathoners out there, I note that the racecourse will be showing the Munster vs Leinster Heineken Cup semi-final after racing, and the bars will still be open. Good grief!)

I'll be offering some insights into the trends for some of the Punchy races, with a big thank you to Tony Mac for kindly sharing his research on the cards.

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Of course, here in UK, where we've put the jumps season behind us, we're looking forward to the first two classics of the season, and they offer the usual conundrum of last season's 2yo form against this season's 3yo trials. Chuck in the Irish vs English relative form imponderable, and the waters are well and truly muddied.

But fret not, for I'll endeavour to take a view on these affairs towards the end of the week as well, in what is likely to be a bumper bloggathon.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the biggest drinking session of them all, the Kentucky Derby, this Saturday. I was lucky enough to go to Louisville a couple of years ago for the Breeders Cup, and all the locals told me that the Derby (pronounced 'dur-bee' - heathens!) absolutely dwarfs the BC meet.

Cheltenham's Gold Cup day boasts crowds of around 65,000... The Derby at Epsom plays host to a staggering 120,000... Wembley holds 90,000... Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May will play host to over 160,000 baying, drinking, wagering sports fans for its 'Run For The Roses'.

Wow! And boy, do they like to party? I was told the college kids will be in town all week drowning themselves in booze. In many ways, I wish I was there. But I'm not sure my liver could survive the pounding... maybe next year!

As for who's going to win... it's almost an irrelevance. Apparently. But of course, I'll be having a crack at this one too. Much more to follow later this week then...

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With so much great sport later in the week, I'll be maintaining a watching brief only today - Mondays being my least favourite betting day in the week at the best of times.

Matt