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Tony Keenan: 2018/19 Irish Jumps Season Review: Four Things

I’m belatedly getting around to wrapping up the Irish jumps season but don’t feel quite so bad for being two weeks behind everyone else with probably the most significant event of the campaign happening last week, Michael O’Leary announcing that Gigginstown would be wound up within five years. Let’s start with that.

 

  1. Gigginstown Going

As a viewer of and writer about Irish racing, Gigginstown and the O’Learys has been box office for the last decade or so, their impact on the game covered elsewhere on the site in March. The retirement of Ruby Walsh will likely be the event that 2018/19 is most remembered for – in the grand scheme of things, no one really cares about owners – but in terms of impact on the broader sport it doesn’t come close to Michael O’Leary’s decision.

The reasons for his move have already been much discussed with some, myself included, wondering if wanting to spend time with teenage children is the real motivation, that age group typically wanting to avoid their parents as much as possible, but ultimately that is all speculation and a bit like the split with Willie Mullins, we may never know the truth.

But one thing that has been evident over the last few years is a rising tide of negativity against Gigginstown domination with some of that coming from medium-sized trainers who have struggled without O’Leary patronage. Those murmurings likely had no impact on O’Leary judging on how he conducts himself in business and those trainers may now be looking forward to a brave new world of more horses in their yard, cheaper horses at the sales and the chance of winning better races. All I can say is: be careful what you wish for.

Much of racing is made up of different interest groups, many of whose interests are in straight opposition with others, but as a punter I will miss Gigginstown massively. The ‘bet the blue cap’ system became a running joke as their second and third and fourth strings won race after race but it said a lot for how their horses were campaigned. There is often a sense when betting that someone will know more than you but with their horses it never felt like it was so much more that you didn’t have a chance with a formbook.

Gordon Elliott looks the big loser in all this and he will find it disheartening that around this time last year O’Leary promised to spend even more to help make him Champion Trainer. Mullins versus Elliott has not been perfect but it is eminently preferable to the Mullins versus himself period we had in the early part of the decade. Elliott forced Mullins to run his good horses more if he wanted to retain his position as Champion Trainer and the concern would be that he reverts to cautious type if the competition wanes.

As to the bloodstock side of things, I refer back to a line from Henry Beeby, Group Chief Executive at Goffs, in my previous piece on Gigginstown when he said there was a time when people worried about what would happen if ‘Robert Sangster never bought another yearling’ and ‘we should never underestimate the resilience of the industry.’ I hope he’s right.

 

  1. The Rachael and Henry Show

Rachael Blackmore was always going to be the story emerging from Knockeen this season, the narrative of unheralded female jockey amidst pioneering campaign much preferable to good trainer having career season; so let’s start with the runner-up in the jockeys’ championship without underplaying the role of Henry de Bromhead.

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The rise of Blackmore could be seen coming early in the season after a fine period in the summer and it was one of the most joyful things about 2018/19; she seemed to relish each big race success, never taking it for granted, her status as one not to the racing manor born endearing her to fans of the sport. With her success there was no drop off in work ethic, indeed she may have worked harder than ever, taking 615 mounts in Ireland over the course of the season. Sean Flanagan was next best with 511, and no other Irish-based jockey had more than 486 rides.

Perhaps this is peak-Rachael, and if it is what a peak it was, but I would be far from sure of that and it is notable that her biggest wins of the season (three Grade 1s, one of them at Cheltenham, along with another winner there) came on novices which was the strength of the de Bromhead yard this past season.

The narrative around de Bromhead for years has been that his horses jump well and while that is a compliment, he will likely be pleased that this season they became good winners as well as good jumpers. His 98 winners and €1.962 million in prizemoney was a clear lifetime best – 68 winners and €1.589 million prizemoney his previous top in 2016/17 – and the most notable aspect of his total was how much of it came from novices.

He won 73 races in the UK and Ireland with novices this past season from 105 total winners, behind only Mullins, Elliott, Dan Skelton and Nicky Henderson in novice winners; and those novices like Minella Indo, Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard went on to compete in (and win) the best races. The departure of Gigginstown will be a blow but he is not completely reliant on them with only three of his top ten prizemoney earners in Ireland running in maroon and white.

They were Sub Lieutenant, Judgement Day and Nick Lost, hardly the most progressive trio for all they were placed to pick up plenty of cheques in 2018/19, and his better horses and prospects run for other owners, some of them new to the yard like Cheveley Park and Kenneth Alexander. Having early success for those two won’t do the trainer any harm.

 

  1. Good isn’t much good

A dry winter meant fast ground for much of the national hunt season proper with all its attendant moaning and withdrawals. It also meant a lot of recycled form, the same horses running against each other under similar conditions from week to week, and if I ever see another two mile handicap chase with Kildorrery, Impact Factor and Duca De Thaix running against each other it will be too soon.

On a serious note, a season where 84% of the pattern was run on goodish ground is not ideal; of the 104 graded non-handicaps in 2018/19, 87 were run on yielding or faster. It was a rare opportunity for good ground horses that had little chance to show their best the previous wet winter but ultimately jumps racing is not designed to be run on a fast surface; the horses are too big, the impact of jumping, particularly over fences, is too much.

There was pressure on courses to water ahead of major meetings with some getting it right, Fairyhouse at Easter and the Punchestown Festival generally coming in for praise, and others not so much, Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival plagued by withdrawals. The track were in an invidious position with frost in the run-up to the meeting and forecast rain not falling but one notable factor was how form from that meeting worked out.

Certainly it wasn’t the bonanza of 2018 when eight Festival winners emerged from the meeting with only two successful this time around. Klassical Dream and Envoi Allen were the pair, and they are about the two most exciting younger jumpers in Ireland right now. Apple’s Jade was one that wasn’t the same afterwards though there may have been seasonal reason for that and the meeting did no harm to the likes of Supasundae and Min judged on their Aintree exploits.

One does worry if a warmer climate in these islands might be as big a threat as there is to national hunt racing. Punchestown is one track that is quite forward-thinking in this regard, an announcement made in The Irish Field before their big meeting that they were expanding their reservoir with a view to future-proofing their water source ‘to provide almost ten times the current water storage capacity’ while also investing in ‘a long-term irrigation system’. If this season is anything to go by it will be needed.

 

  1. The Spread of Graded Success

When previewing the jumps season, I had noted the growing domination of Mullins and Elliott in graded races (hardly revelatory, I know) but one interesting feature of this past season was a greater spread of Graded success as seen in the following table which suggests a reversal of a pattern that seemed to be going only one way:

Perhaps the ground played its part – Mullins for one seemed reluctant to risk many of his horses on a decent surface and also went through a quiet spell around the New Year – and it will be fascinating to see how the dwindling influence of Gigginstown will impact this.

But whatever the reason it was a positive to see the likes of Peter Fahey, with Gypsy Island and Timeforwest, Colin Kidd with Rashaan, Pat Doyle with Kaiser Black, and Dermot McLaughlin with Santa Rosa land graded successes. The most significant ‘smaller trainer’ graded win however was likely Espoir D’Allen for Gavin Cromwell, allowing that the horse had won such races the previous season, as he used it as a springboard to Champion Hurdle success.

Another interesting feature of the pattern race season was the return of UK horses winning some of our best prizes, nine raiders winning (from 24 runners) which was a high as far as I could research back; since 2012/13, those totals have been six, five, one, seven, three and one. They weren’t all in the big races or at the big festivals, the likes of Bedrock (twice) and Saint Calvados among those that won more run-of-the-mill races that typically wouldn’t attract overseas runners.

There were old boys coming back for more – Simply Ned at Christmas and Unowhatimeanharry at Punchestown – but La Bague Au Roi was anything but at the Dublin Racing Festival and it will be interesting if these successes see more raiders coming across this coming winter.

- Tony Keenan

Cheltenham Open Review… and My Mistake

Cheltenham win machine, Balthazar King

Cheltenham win machine, Balthazar King

It was a brilliant weekend of racing, as Cheltenham's Open meeting went toe to toe with Punchestown's Morgiana Hurdle weekend. As well as some cracking winning performances, and plenty more of great promise, there was also a bit of an error on my part. More on that, including how you can help ensure it doesn't happen again, towards the end of this post.

But first, let's dwell on a wonderful few days of jump racing. The overlapping period of the last couple of weeks of the flat and the first few of the jumps offer little in the way of solid form, or competitive racing. All that changed, though, with the rise of the tape for the first race at Cheltenham on Friday. It may have only been an amateurs' handicap chase, but the scene was set for a thrilling three days.

Highlights on Friday included Taquin de Seuil showing he can act on ground better than soft when he outkicked Oscar Whisky after the last. In truth, it was a muddling race, and the ground may have been closer to good to soft (or 'dead' as some jockeys were calling it) than the official quote of good at race time. Take nothing away from the winner who was always in the right place, and it was AP McCoy doing the stiffening after the last.

For Oscar Whisky fans, while this was another blow after the disappointments at the end of last season, the real shame might be that he failed to convince in his jumping, looking every inch like a horse which - after five years hurdling - cannot fathom how to get a foot or two higher at these revised obstacles. He could be one to oppose at short prices in the near future.

The following handicap hurdle resulted in a smooth win for Thomas Crapper over a field bristling with potential. Numerous horses were heavily backed, but none could live with the horse named after a firm of toilet manufacturers. If anything, three-quarter length second, Angles Hill, may have been flattered by his proximity given that the winner seemed to idle once hitting the front.

His narrow margin of victory may save him from draconian measures by the handicapper and, if that comes to pass, he's capable of notching the hat-trick next time.

Angles Hill was running second in the race for the second year in a row, and he had daylight to spare over the third placed Whisper, the best finisher of the gambled-on nags.

Further back, Upswing was given a metaphorical mountain to climb which, allied to the literal hill he was required to scale, proved too much. Nevertheless, he can improve markedly on this, and looks likely to go close in a decent contest as the season wears on. This isn't the first time a McCoy-ridden McManus-owned horse has been exaggeratedly out of its ground before closing all too late, and it's become something of a blueprint for getting horses handicapped.

The cross country races aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I loves 'em. Here's why: firstly, although they can be run at a pedestrian pace, they offer plenty of variety in the jumping tests, and they also feature some of the more, erm, mercurial (read, doggy) members of the equine fraternity. That leads me to the second reason I loves 'em: they are excellent betting heats.

Take Balthazar King, for example. A stand out prospect for the race for all sorts of reasons alluded to in Friday's post, he was available at 2/1 for much of the morning, and as big as 9/4 the night before. He returned 5/4 in the end, and my weekend expenses were covered then and there. I don't bet a lot of short-priced horses, but value comes at all prices and he was knocking value.

Plenty in behind will never a Festival Cross Country winner make, and the stage looks set for some new blood to take on BK if they're able. Perhaps Enda Bolger's Love Rory, staying on winner of the Risk Of Thunder Chase over Punchestown's banks twenty-three-and-a-half-hours later, could be the pretender come March. He'll only be six then, but he already looks a stayer of some promise.

Ruby Walsh made a rare foray over for the one ride: Quick Jack in the last on Friday, and he made it worth his while when sluicing up atop the 15/8 favourite. This fellow is clearly progressive, and he's going to get plenty of cargo to carry when next he faces the starter after this romp.

Jack's mark here was 113, and he's likely to be nearer 125 next time. He's also to have a break now, before coming back in the New Year. Doubtless the Festival will be on the agenda, and most likely a tilt at the County Hurdle, a race won this year by the same connections.

The placepot slipped away on Friday as AP got the better of Barry Geraghty in that win only heat, and with it about £2,500 in dividends evaded my betting account.

**

Saturday was Paddy Power Gold Cup day, and a cracking race looked in prospect, with almost every runner having a case made for them in one quarter or another. The babies were first to take the floor, with Royal Irish Hussar laying down a good early season benchmark for the Triumph Hurdle next March. He'll need to jump better to win at the Festival though, and the 16/1 quoted by Ladbrokes is a good bit more sensible than the 8/1 offered elsewhere.

It's entirely possible the Triumph Hurdle winner is hacking round a field somewhere in France just now, so keep that powder dry!

The novices' chase was noteworthy mainly for the poor showing of African Gold on his fencing bow. On this showing he's more of a contender for the four miler than the RSA, but I'd be inclined to think he's better than he showed, and wait on his next start before taking a firmer view.

Le Bec won well enough, but ought not to be up to RSA Chase standard, gritty and determined though he is.

The placepot went west in leg three, as Monbeg Dude - who jumped to last to give a lead to Godsmejudge - capitulated to fourth on the run in, with the 'judge still just behind him. The trio who scooted by up that debilitating hill were led by Alvarado, a talented "monkey" according to his jockey, Paul Moloney.

He was kicking off a fat-priced double for local trainer, Fergal O'Brien, a man worth following.

Johns Spirit won the PP Gold Cup

Johns Spirit won the PP Gold Cup

As for the Dude, well he doesn't want to be in front too long, and perhaps if regular pilot Paul Carberry had been in the saddle, he'd have been delivered later. That said, he was weighted to finish behind Bradley on their last year one-two in the race, and that's pretty much exactly what he did.

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The big race was up next, and I was happy enough with my three against the field: Champion Court, Astracad and Attaglance. Midway through the race, I was far less content, as Champion Court put in a hollow effort, perhaps getting stuck in the dead ground, but still failing to match expectations.

Astracad on the other hand ran a lot better than his finishing position of eleventh might imply. He's got a nice race in him somewhere along the way this term. As for Attaglance, he remains an enigma over fences. It might be that three miles is his trip now, or it might be that he's just not as good over a fence as he was over a hurdle. I suspect the former, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him make the frame - at least - in the Festival Handicap Chase on Festival Tuesday.

The winner was Johns Spirit who, like Thomas Crapper and Balthazar King before him, was doubling up after success at the October meeting here. This game is so easy with hindsight, isn't it?

I gave Johns Spirit a chance, but he seemed short enough in the betting to my eye. Be that as it may, he was clear best here, and taking his time under a stylish Richie McLernon, he went the longest way but never looked like losing from the turn in. This was off a perch of 139, and he'll be a 150 horse in future. That may put him in the picture for such as the Ryanair, though in truth it could leave him a bit betwixt and between handicaps and Graded company, assuming there's not another ten pounds of improvement still in him.

Easter Meteor was running a massive race when falling two out and, if none the worse for that, is of clear interest next time, assuming the market doesn't overreact (as it often does with such horses).

In the penultimate race, the handicap hurdle, Salubrious put in one of the performances of the weekend... and still lost! That he was carrying 11-07 to the winner's 9-11 tells the story and, after an impressive weight-carrying effort when winning the Martin Pipe off 11-08 last term, he shouldn't be ignored when lumping top weight in handicaps.

James Best was blubbing like a baby when interviewed after his last gasp win here, and fair play to the lad: it clearly meant everything to him.

The concluding bumper exemplified my luck for the day. Having a speculative loyalty £15 on Lilly Waugh, trained by Anthony Honeyball and ridden by Rachael Green, I'd snared 22.0 on Betfair, which implied only a slim chance in this Listed bumer. Miss Waugh, under Miss Green, traveled extremely sweetly turning in and looked for all the world like the winner... before getting mugged by the rattling-home The Govaness, for that man, Fergal O'Brien. At 28/1?!

Meanwhile, over the pond at Punchy, Champagne Fever was making an eye-filling impression in the novices chase. Always thought of as a chaser in the making (aren't they all?), the fact that he's been good enough to win both the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices' Hurdle prior to filling his vocation over the big buggers should have made him a very exciting prospect. And he wasn't going to disappoint.

Up against a very talented ex-pointer in Marlbrook, Champagne Fever was much the best and looks to be a strong fancy for the Arkle, though the Jewson may also be considered for a horse who seems to have stamina to match his speed. It's not impossible that he might be a Gold Cup horse next season, but let's first see how he goes through this term.

For the contrarians amongst you, it's worth noting that Champagne Fever was beaten a few times last season prior to outstaying Jezki and My Tent Or Yours, so don't be too perturbed if he does flounder on deeper ground-er 'twixt now and middle March.

**

Sunday, and I get a pass to head to the track. Cheltenham with my great mate Gavin (of Nag Nag Nag, Trainer Track Stats and Festival Trends fame), and his family (including long-shot king, brother Gary). I was also able to catch up with Nicky Doyle, who has just relaunched his excellent Bet Alchemist service. He's had the typical losing start as soon as new subscribers come on board, but has shown some promising signs with the nomination of two placed 33/1 shots in Attaglance and Rawnaq. I wish him well with his service, and I'm certain he'll continue to find value for those who 'get' what he's doing.

To the racing, and we kicked off with a big field handicap hurdle, in which I had no view. I'd banked on Lieutenant Miller in the placepot, and that meant I didn't need to bet anything else. Just as well, really, as I'd never have found Home Run, the 40/1 winner and a portent of a golden day for David Pipe. He also saddled the second placed horse, and went on to greet three more beasts in the winners' enclosure before the day was out.

Cumulative odds amounted to 5,995/1 and that tells you much about the facility (or lack thereof) of locating this little quartet.

The second race of the day was a novices' hurdle, featuring two very promising sorts in Sea Lord, high class on the flat and protecting a six race unbeaten run over hurdles; and The Liquidator, an excellent bumper horse now making his name over timber.

As it turned out it was a mismatch: The Liquidator went to the front and stayed there, while Sea Lord toiled and laboured, and flapped and flailed. I'd backed the Sea Lord (of course), and I - like the hordes who shortened him to even money from an early 11/8 - knew my fate pretty early.

If anything, Sea Lord deserves credit for staying on to be a respectful second, as he barely jumped a hurdle all the way round and looked errant enough on the flat too. It could be that the dead ground did for him; it might be that the undulating track wasn't his bag... but this run strongly suggested that Cheltenham won't be his happiest hunting ground, and I would rather wager him on Aintree's pan-flat plains than Cheltenham's big dipper.

Take nothing away from the winner: he jumped well throughout, and was kept up to his work all the way to the line. The fact that Scudamore continued to encourage him - more vigorously than the distance of his lead suggested he needed - implies that he may have been running out of gas. That's conjecture on my part, and I'd like to see him in a deeper field where getting his own way in front is less assured.

Yes, I'd backed Sea Lord, in a double with Ted Veale, the County Hurdle winner in March, and now faced with fences. He was up against Dodging Bullets, a horse I've consistently crabbed, and Raya Star, a smart hurdler that had made a nice start over the birch.

Well, sometimes you just get it all wrong. Ted, who I topped up with a single after double with Sea Lord had mutinied, ran a listless race in third. Raya Star ran well enough. But neither was much of a match for Dodging Bullets, who fair bounded away up the hill and looks a smart recruit to novice chasing. He'll probably continue to be suited by small fields, and he's much more likely to get that scenario over fences than hurdles.

It was the second leg of a stellar novice chase double for owner Martin Broughton, whose Taquin de Seuil had lowered the Oscar Whisky colours on Friday.

As for Ted Veale, well, my suspicion is he was under-cooked and that he'll be tilting at the Grand Annual (two mile handicap chase) come Festival time. A nice low weight, having had a sighter over the Prestbury fences and a couple of muddling mud runs back home: just the job.

The feature of the afternoon was the Greatwood Hurdle, and both Gavin and I had reasonable confidence in our nominations. Gavin was in the Ifandbutwhynot camp, and I was in the Sametegal camp. As it transpired, we were both in the losing voucher camp, though I earned pole position on the whingeing grid, Sametegal having looked set to win before the €280,000 purchase, Dell'Acca duffed him - and my bet - up on the run in.

That's a chunk of money to spend on a horse with no undercarriage, and connections will be relieved that he's at least made a reasonable dent into the expenses column with the £43,000 he picked up here. I don't suppose they fancy paying me out on Sametegal...? No, thought not.

This was leg three of the Pipe quad, and it returned 12/1, well enough fancied, but unconsidered by me.

Rawnaq ran well for Nicky and his subscribers, claiming 8/1 for the place, or thereabouts; and Flaxen Flare was another who showed plenty with an eye to the future. Last year's Fred Winter winner, he'll need to drop a few pounds, or improve a few pounds, or most likely both, if he's to win again next March. But this performance suggested it's far from impossible for that to happen.

Tanerko Emery was one of the main victims of the fall of Ahyaknowyerself - well, of those that weren't brought down anyway - and he ran with huge credit to finish fifth: another excellent turn from David Pipe horse. He ought to be winning soon.

And Pipe was to complete his four-timer with the unbeaten Red Sherlock, owned by the late David Johnson, and bred from his brilliant race mare, Lady Cricket. Many people offered plaudits to jockey Timmy Murphy for his 'almost off the course' inside line, but let's be clear, the best horse on the day won.

Neck Or Nothing tried to jump a path, and he's a good bit better than the bare finishing position of eighth suggests.

**

Meanwhile... over the pond at Punchy, Willie Mullins saw David Pipe's four-timer, and Ruby Walsh, the cheeky little showoff, raised them with a nap hand of five consecutive winners!

Whilst the headline horse will be Hurricane Fly, the subtext is that this was a deeply disappointing effort, albeit in victory. The Fly was sent off at odds of 1/16 to win his 'world record' seventeenth Grade 1. He won by one and a quarter lengths. Not a Ruby Walsh cheeky little showoff one and a quarter lengths; more like an almost all out where's the line? one and a quarter lengths.

Most bookies pushed him out marginally for the Champion Hurdle and, given that he'll be ten years old by then, I just can't have him. It's true that I've written off good horses prematurely before, but even if Hurricane Fly was 80% fit, beating a horse rated 37 lbs his inferior in such animated fashion was a weak showing.

Marito for his part may well be on the upgrade, and I understand it's possible he's headed for the Hennessy next, which would be interesting.

That was leg four of the Ruby Showoff Show, and it had been preceded by a 1/5 winner (Faugheen), a 9/4 winner (Felix Yonger), a 6/4 winner (Morning Assembly), and succeeded by a 7/4 winner, City Slicker. Cumulative odds, then, were 27.5/1. Chuck in 10/1 winner, Presenting Beara, and you had a 312/1 six-timer.

Double that and add a bit and you get the €648.50 dividend for a euro that the Punchy Pick 6 paid. There was a juicy rollover and, with those two bankers, I couldn't resist a tilt at it. True enough, I threw 120 €1 lines into the mix. But still it was enough to make a good weekend a very good weekend, despite a fair amount of crossbar-rattling.

I'll let Tony Keenan dissect the Irish racing, as he has a much better handle on such things. But I will say that Faugheen looks like a massive horse, and he virtually walked over the hurdles in his stride. Big. Horse.

****

Now then, to my mistake. I went looking for a bookmaker to offer a free bet prize based around Saturday's big race. There was a condition - entrants had to place a £10 bet - but, despite that, I have to say I was surprised and a bit disappointed with the number of entries. Thirteen. Five of which had failed to place the qualifying bet. Meaning eight legit entries.

Now that's my issue, and it's my mistake. And it serves me right for assuming I know what you fine people want from this 'ere blog. I should have asked you what you want!

So, closing the competition door after entries horse has bolted (or something), below is a question - please select all answers that apply to you - and next time, I'll be able to frame a comp that will be more popular and, hopefully, fun! 🙂

[poll id="52"]

Thanks in advance for your responses, and I hope you had a great weekend with the geegees.

Matt

Trainer Stats: 16th April 2013

a o'Brien

O'Brien Horses In Fine Form

See who’s made it onto Andy Newton’s ‘Hot Trainer’s’ list this week....... Read more

Trainer Stats: 20th Feb 2013

Colin Tizzard

Look out for the Tizzard horses

More trainer clues and stats as Andy Newton's got six more hot yard to look out for this week....... Read more

The Punting Confessional: the Tote Ten to Follow

Tote Ten to Follow 2012

Tote Ten to Follow 2012

Punchestown, April 24th through 28th

The national hunt festival at Punchestown was something of a non-event for me this year with only a few piffling bets and all but Alderwood being losing dockets. The five-day break for flat racing was a welcome one however as it gave me plenty of time to have a look at the Tote Ten To Follow competition for the flat and with a price in excess of £58,000 last year it is certainly worth effort.

The prize-money is clearly the big attraction and all the more so for an Irish-centric punter like myself; opportunities to get a big score in Irish racing in terms of pool bets are few and far between. We do not have a Saturday Scoop 6, our daily Pick 6 a pale imitation, while the Jackpot in Ireland runs from races three to six instead of one to six which makes big rollovers infrequent. The Ten To Follow thus presents a rare opportunity to go for the sweep.

I prefer the flat competition to its jumps equivalent for a few reasons. The obvious one is that I am mainly a flat punter though I must stress that I don’t necessarily prefer it to jumps racing; it just suits my other work commitments to follow flat racing and you cannot study everything. There are fewer horses in the flat competition (250 versus 500 over jumps) while there is a much lower attrition rate on the level; jumpers miss entire seasons regularly.

Also, with the jumpers, you have to find big handicap winners which isn’t easy – who, other than a rabid sentimentalist, could include a horse like Carruthers in this season’s jumps list, yet he goes on to win the Hennessy and blows the completion apart – whereas on the flat it is all about Group 1 winners.

There are much fewer entries on the flat which obviously leads to less prize-money but fifty-odd thousand is nothing to be sneezed at and it is easier to win; I managed a lifetime best one hundredth and thirty-fifth last year and want to do better this and might well have done so last year if I hadn’t had brain-freeze and included Jan Vermeer in so many lists!

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I wrote above that it is all about finding Group 1 winners and one can easily get rid of a raft of horses by knocking out exposed listed and Group 3 types; official ratings can be a fine guide. More than finding Group 1 winners however, it is about getting the winners of the bonus races which are worth an extra 25 points to go along with the 25 you get for a Group 1 win.

This is where you need to weigh what a Group 3 horse can do versus one with top-level pretensions; a lesser group horse, the likes of Famous Name say, could have a fine season and win three Group 3s yet its points would not amount to that of a single bonus race winner. Don’t forget, there are also points for coming second in a bonus race.

All bonus races are not equal however. Some are completely inscrutable, the St. Leger being the most obvious example, and anyone trying to pick the winner of the final classic in early May really needs to reassess their strategy. Stayers in general are probably horses to avoid with only one bonus race available, the Ascot Gold Cup, so their window for big points gathering is narrow; ideally you want horses that are likely to take in a number of bonus races. The counter-argument to this is that the staying division is a weak one and a dominant horse, in the mould of Yeats, can sweep the boards. If there is such a horse in the division this year it is Fame And Glory but he hasn’t always been one to hold his form throughout the year and he wouldn’t be for me; if pressed for a stayer to include (and I’m lukewarm on them as a group) I would plump for Saddler’s Rock.

I’m similarly sceptical about including sprinters though this season is an exception with Black Caviar coming over; more of her anon. There are three bonus races for sprinters, the Golden Jubilee, the July Cup and the Nunthorpe, but only twice since 2001 has a single horse won more than one of them, Starspangledbanner in 2010 and Les Arcs in 2006, who if I recall correctly wasn’t even in the competition that year.

The top sprints just have too many complicating factors in an average year; the fields are huge, there is little gap between the top handicappers and Group 1 types while there are a raft of horses coming from abroad that aren’t even in the Ten To Follow lists. But this is hardly an average year and Black Caviar merits strong consideration for banker status; she will reportedly take in two bonus races, the Golden Jubilee and the July Cup, which is a big plus while the fact that Australian sprinters do so well over here – and she is apparently their best of all-time – is another pointer.

On the subject of bankers, you need to have a few. Frankel is the obvious one but he is coming back off an injury and while sure to go into plenty of my lists, I’m more interested in the horse he beat throughout last season, Excelebration. With Frankel set to go up in trip, the way looks clear for him to take in all the bonus races at a mile – the Queen Anne, Sussex and QEII – and he has already shown his wellbeing this term.

Other possible bankers for me include St Nicholas Abbey (the 12f division for older horses looks weak and he has already beaten one of his main rivals Sea Moon easily), So You Think (a talking horse if ever there was one, but one that still sets the standard at ten furlongs and is set to get plenty of racing) and Akeed Mofeed (my fancy for the Derby).

Before the Derby, there is the Guineas and it is vital get a good start to the competition here; not only are an early 100 points (plus Tote returns) available but the first classics also open up other point-scoring pathways; not only the St. James’s Palace and Coronation Stakes, bonus races run under similar conditions at Royal Ascot, but also the Irish Guineas.

Ballydoyle have short-priced favourites in both and I’d probably be stronger on Maybe of the two as I don’t think Camelot’s form has any substance to it though the visual impression could hardly have been better. I’ll be perming both in my lists however; Camelot with Trumpet Major, Abtaal, French Fifteen and Power and Maybe with Lyric Of Light, Lightening Pearl and La Collina.

That may change should the final make-up of the either race be altered between now and Saturday; it is always best to hold off until the last minute before entering your lists.

A few final thoughts. Cape Blanco was a big scorer in winning three American turf Group 1s last year but horses like him won’t do the same this time around as only points scored in Europe count which is a change in the competition. Consequently, you want to be against globetrotters; the likes of Cityscape, Wigmore Hall and Dunaden may be very likeable but if they’re not running in Europe, they won’t be getting points, no matter how many Group 1s they win.

I also want to be against fillies and mares or at least older fillies and mares. There are no bonus races for them and while the likes of Snow Fairy are very good they struggle to win in open company against the colts; in 2011, 8 of the top 10 point-scorers were colts and geldings while it was 9 of the top 10 in 2010.

Good luck with your lists.

Sat TV Trends: 28th Apr 2012

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