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Dubai Diaries: The World Cup is Coming…

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

It would be fair to say that jockeys based in the UAE over the winter months are a spoilt lot. Not only do they have just three meetings a week to ride at, the distance they have to travel to get to the races is nothing compared to the miles they have to clock up on Britain’s pothole-ridden and clogged up roads.

With the furthest racetrack just one hour’s drive away in Abu Dhabi, you can see why the riders like to come out here for six months of the year.

However, it doesn’t mean that some are shirking from suffering long days.

One of the busiest jockeys in the UK weighing room, Luke Morris, has been on holiday here for the last week whilst he sits out a suspension acquired on the all-weather back in Blighty. Well, I say holiday, but it can’t feel much like one.

Qatar is a nation with a growing horse racing industry. Some say that in five years time it will match the reputation and prize money that Dubai has to offer. That’s not to say the cash up for grabs at the minute is to be missed and jockeys won’t pass up on a chance to earn a few quid.

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Morris jetted off to Qatar from Dubai for the ride on Hototo in Tuesday’s feature race – the Group 3 Invitation Cup. The pair finished 3rd, netting owner/trainer Fawzi Nass £5,500 for his troubles.

Hospitality is something the Arabs do well but Morris had no time for that with a chocka-block diary so he went straight to the airport for the two hour flight back to Dubai, landed at 4.30am and then got a taxi directly to the International Stables and gave Secret Asset his final piece of work before he runs at Meydan this weekend.

That’s not my idea of a holiday!

Back to Qatar though, there were some familiar names on show during the night.

The opener was part of the Fegentri series for amateur riders where a representative from 12 of the world’s biggest racing nations ride against each other on local horses all across the globe. Team GB rep for this season is Freddie Mitchell (brother of Jack) and he got the job done by winning the 7f contest.

Down the field in 7th was a horse called One Cool Bex – last seen in Britain winning at Wolverhampton in October 2010 when trained by Charlie McBride. He’s won 4 races since moving to his new home.

Whilst half of the card is designated to purebred Arabian horses (where another Brit – Julian Smart – mops up) there are still plenty of blasts from the past contesting the remaining races.

The big race itself where Hototo finished third was won by Roi De Vitesse whom some may recall finished 2nd in the 2009 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket’s July Meeting.

Whilst it’s pretty hard to get a good job in Dubai as a leading jockey, intrepid pilots have seen an opening across the pond in Qatar and after reading the list of declarations, you could be forgiven for thinking you are at Doncaster rather than Doha.

Andrew Elliot, Darren Williams, Mark Lawson, Saleem Golam and Brett Doyle are just some of the formerly British based riders to be paving the way in Qatar.

It’s still early days but don’t be surprised if the tiny nation of Qatar starts to grow on the racing map.

Treble Jig in search of new ballroom?

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

Rags-to-riches sensation Treble Jig has garnered plenty of lines in this blog over the past few weeks and he looks like he could be writing plenty more if all said is to be believed, writes Ross Birkett.

The cheap cast-off from Newmarket has turned UAE racing on its head since arriving to sunnier climes last season and became the first horse to win both the Jebel Ali Stakes and Mile in the same season… twice!

However, there could be another dramatic twist around the corner after the six-year old’s name was amongst 130 others listed in the Emirates Racing Authority horses in training sale held early next month at Meydan.

Now, he wouldn’t be the first big name to be entered in the auction and withdraw shortly before walking into the ring after connections have a change of heart but word has it that he will go under the hammer and be available for purchase – for the right price.

With career earnings of over £250,000 and more to come, owner Fathi Egziama won’t let him go for peanuts with a reported 2,000,000AED (£350,000) reserve price tag on his pride and joy. It has to be wondered though if those locals wealthy enough to consider such a purchase have fallen in love with him sufficiently to pay that much.

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In a culture where rivalry is fierce and there’s nothing better than beating your mate’s horse, I have a feeling someone may just stick their hand in the air come March 6th.

Treble Jig: big in Dubai

Treble Jig: big in Dubai

Whilst the remainder of the sale is made up by a motley crew of perennial dodgepots, one name that does stand out is Burano.

Trained by Brian Meehan, the four-year old was just touched off at the Carnival two weeks ago and looks more than capable of winning a big prize out here. However, it must be noted that he was entered in this sale 12 months ago and subsequently withdrawn.

The star of this week’s action at HQ is undoubtedly Igugu, who lines up in the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes over 1800m (1m1f).

South Afica’s Champion racehorse hasn’t been seen since landing the Grade 1 J&B Met in January 2012 but that’s through no fault of her own. With the plan always to come to Dubai, she has had to undergo a year-long quarantine, taking in a journey to Dubai via Mauritius and Newmarket.

Rather like Frankel, at a walk she is not the flashiest of individuals but when revved up and going full pelt, she is something to behold with a giant stride on her that gobbles up the ground.

She has been galloping with stablemate Treasure Beach (who incidentally is absolutely flying but I don’t know when he runs next) and trainer Mike De Kock thinks she is fit enough to do herself justice. She’ll need to be though.

In opposition we have Sajjhaa, winner of the Group 2 Cape Verdi Stakes last time. A strong travelling worrier, she benefitted from the soothing effects of a hood last time and it is kept on again. Although I think she stays this far, I just wonder if it is her optimum trip with her success last time coming over 1600m/ a mile.

Let’s not forget Lily’s Angel, who has been a revelation since joining Irish handler, Ger Lyons, winning her last four starts, including at Meydan last time.

She was meant to run against Sajjhaa in the Cape Verdi but came into season just before then and had to miss the engagement. The enforced break has reportedly done her the world of good and freshened her up.

One last word to Await The Dawn. Most famous for winning the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011, he runs in a handicap off a mark of 118 but still looks like he could win it. I’ll be killed if I don’t mention the fact Julia Feilden (or 'mum', as I call her) has his unraced half-brother at home (shares still available) who has been going well on the gallops, and was trained until recently by none other than Sir Henry Cecil. Even Geegeez’s top-gun Matt Bisogno has a leg in him!

[Editor: It's only half a leg, but I'm excited to see him run soon... more info here.]

Dubai Diaries: The World Cup is Coming…

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

Ross Birkett's Dubai Diaries

It’s so close, you can almost taste it.

It seems like no time has passed since the dust settled on the 2012 Dubai World Cup meeting last March and already we’re in the clutches of another Dubai World Cup Carnival.

This week saw the final list published of those horses who have been accepted to race for Meydan’s riches and it can finally put to bed the Chinese whispers about who is heading to the desert for next Thursday’s kick-off.

For those unaware, the list can be found here: http://dubairacingclub.com/sites/default/files/2013_DWCC.pdf

On first inspection, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the quality and quantity of horses listed.

Yes, you’ve got Group 1 winners such as Dancing Rain, Gordon Lord Byron and Zazou but I can’t see horses of this caliber coming out too early because there aren’t the races for them.

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The first influx of international raiders landed two days before Christmas and they included four from the Singapore stable of Steven Burridge.

Burridge had a great old time at last year’s Carnival when he brought out four horses and they all won. Now, whether this was because the UAE handicapper had underestimated the Singapore form (which was being tested for the first time here) or it was just due to the fact that the horses were extremely fit and had no problems with the Tapeta all-weather surface, I don’t know but I get the suspicion that 2013 might be a little tougher for them.

That’s not to say I am hoping they don’t win, far from it. In various interviews with Steven, you couldn’t find a nicer bloke and he was always willing to give you five minutes of his time to chat about the horses.

I have noticed a significant difference in the attitudes towards the media between foreign trainers and those of Britain.

At home, the media are treated with a bit of contempt and no handler is willing to give away too much info whereas with the Aussies and Americans, they see the press as a platform to publicise themselves and it seems as though it has been ingrained in them from early in their careers that you need to keep the media on your side and the TV cameras pointing right at you.

Having said that, one Brit from a different mould is Robert Cowell.

The Newmarket-based trainer has become a bit of a stalwart to Dubai in recent seasons and he’s back with a trio of raiders.

I managed to see quite a bit of Monsieur Joe when he was over last Carnival and, at first inspection, I could not believe this was the right horse, he was so small, unassuming and barely caught the eye. However, put a saddle on his back and he comes alive, as he demonstrated when landing a 5f handicap on the turf last February. He seems to save his best for this place and I’d definitely have him down as one to watch.

As I said earlier, it wasn’t until having a deeper look at the list of acceptees to the DWCC that I unearthed a few lurkers.

Take Maxentius, for instance. Trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, he looked to have the world at his feet when running away with a novice stakes at Doncaster in June but the wheels seemed to fall off subsequently and he’s already falling into the ‘forgotten horse’ category.

However, now could be his chance to shine. At the age of three, he’ll be eligible to run in the UAE ‘Classics’. I use the term loosely as indeed there are Guineas, Oaks and Derbys to run in but their respective merit compared to those old establishments of Europe are somewhat questionable.

Regardless, they offer a chance to win plenty of dollars and get some valuable black-type on the breeding so they’re not to be missed. The fields are usually small and, more often than not, dominated by Godolphin but Maxentius is the kind of individual who could mix it up a bit and get the boys in blue in a bit of a sweat.

I’ll be having plenty of early starts in the coming weeks as I head down to Meydan to catch the morning trackworks so will be able to reveal some more next week and hopefully find some hidden gems in the desert.

- Ross Birkett

Weekend Preview (Temple Stakes)

Sancho Panza, sponsored by Geegeez.co.uk, bids to give Geegeez writer Ross Birkett a winner tomorrow at York

Sancho Panza, sponsored by Geegeez.co.uk, bids to give Geegeez writer Ross Birkett a winner tomorrow at York

It's a bumper weekend of racing action, on both sides of the Irish Sea, and I'll preview the UK races of most interest here, including a fascinating Temple Stakes that sees the 'Budapest Bullet' make his UK debut.

But first, there's plenty going on today in the racing world, so let's try and pick out a couple that might run well, all emboldened for ease of reference!

Let's start off with the 'get out stakes', and 8.40 at Towcester. TimVaughan currently has a 43% win and 57% place strike rate in the last 14 days, and his sole runner today is in the bumper here. True Blue is the name, and this dual point-to-point winner may be value against an unraced Nicky Henderson horse.

True Blue hacked up on his second point start, and that was just two and half weeks ago, so he'll be fit and ready for this. 7/4 might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he'll likely go off shorter ths evening.

In the 3.40 Bath, Flowing Cape has been running well, and the race in which he was second last time behind Seasider has thrown up three subsequent winners and a placed horse from four just six runners. Flowing Cape is spotting the favourite, Collect Art, a stone and a bit but the pick has won off a seven pound higher mark than the 83 he races off today, whereas the jolly is trying to defy a career high rating.

Flowing Cape travels very well in his races and, whilst being called some names for not always going by the leader, he was six lengths clear of third placed Galatian last time, and that horse won a competitive Newmarket handicap in front of the Geegeez Racing Club mob last weekend.

Another who could run well at a bigger price is Miss Blink in the 4.50 at Yarmouth. She won last time out in a race that has produced a winner and a couple of tidy placed horses from five runners, and the 4/1 looks good each way value.

Most of the top drawer action is tomorrow of course, and the Temple Stakes from Haydock is the UK feature. It has even more spice than usual this term, as the ghoulash-gobbling galloper, Overdose, the Budapest Bullet bids for his 16th win from 17 lifetime starts.

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In truth, he's yet to face competition as deep as this, except when he 'won' the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp the year it was nullified and rerun later in the day. As a 6yo, he's also older than eight of the last ten winners, with just David Barker's pair of 7yo's spoiling the record of the 3-5yo brigade.

On balance, whilst I'd quite like to see him win, 15/8 is plenty short enough, and not for me in one of these sprint contests. Ignoring the old guard knocks out quite a few  more of the fancied runners, including second favourite and fellow six-year-old, Kingsgate Native, who won this last year.

It was also his seasonal debut last year when he bagged this, so lack of a run wouldn't be a concern.

Markab, Tangerine Trees and Borderlescott are all in the older horse bracket and, whilst obviously that doesn't preclude them winning, I'm looking for a younger type to offer a bit of value. Step forward, last year's shock Nunthorpe Stakes winner, Sole Power. He was 100/1 that day, and won on merit alright under similar conditions to tomorrow's.

He's 'only' a 12/1 chance this time, and I think he represents a degree of each way value in a wide open contest.

I couldn't take a look at this race, without mentioning the gallant veteran, Borderlescott in more detail. He's been third and second twice in this race in the last three years. It would be a staggering achievement at the age of nine were he to prevail. I'd love to see it but I wouldn't bet it! Good luck to the old boy, nevertheless.

One other race worthy of mention tomorrow is the Julia Feilden trained Sancho Panza, who runs in the amateur race at York (5.25). A certain Ross Birkett, son of Julia and regular Geegeez guest writer, will take the mount and he's bidding to maintain a record for the horse of finishing in the first two in each of his last five starts.

Track, trip and ground will all be fine for him, and I'll be betting each way and cheering Ross-co home!

[Julia also has two in at Goodwood. Not fancied and only running because the owner is in attendance.]

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Now then, on a completely different note, and in case you were wondering why I've been so quiet this week...

It's because I opened the door to new applicants for my Platinum Programme business training yesterday. The feedback has been unanimously positive, and the available twenty spaces are filling up nicely.

For most of you, if you'd wanted to get involved, you'd have been on my special business training list already. But if for some reason you did miss that invite, or perhaps you just want to have a snoop around what's going on ;), then you check the Platinum Programme out here.

Have a great weekend, whatever you've got planned, and I'll be back in the swing of things next week.

Matt

 

 

Carnivals and Festivals: Weekend Review

Quarter Horses are fast!

Quarter Horses are fast!

Horse racing is a sport enjoyed across the length and breadth of the globe, dear reader, and it manifests itself in a multitude of different guises. From the bottomless slog of a four mile chase at Towcester, via two furlong 'quarter horse' dirt races at greyhound tracks masquerading as horse racing tracks in the US, to the slick monied - slightly surreal - racing of Meydan's tapeta track in Dubai, there really is something for everyone in racing.

Last weekend saw countless clues for both the Carnival and the Festival: Dubai's culminating World Cup meeting on March 26th, and Cheltenham four day National Hunt season highlight running from March 15th to 18th.

First, roving reporter Ross relates the latest Godolphin / de Kock domination in the Emirates, then I'll expound on my views of the virtues (or otherwise) of this weekend's Festival trials from Britain and Ireland. Over to Ross, and a somewhat unpatriotic rallying cry (unless you happen to be Gallic)...

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Vive la France! Forgive me, as patriotic as this website is (it is geegeez.co.UK after all), I have never been so pleased to see the French show up just at the right time (makes a change).

After last week’s dominance of the Dubai Carnival’s second meeting by Godolphin and Mike de Kock - 5 winners, 3 seconds and 7 thirds between them - it looked like things were going to go the same way this Thursday after the boys in blue claimed the first race with City Style and then had a 1-2-3 in races three and four.

Although a great achievement for Sheikh Mohammed and his team, this kind of dominance does become tedious to watch. It’s not as though we can profit from their success either as their apparent third string runner is often as likely to win as the horse Frankie Dettori chooses.

We did get a slight respite from the navy blue marauders as the French-trained Win For Sure lived up to his name and sailed home to land the concluding handicap under Gregory Benoist. The trainer's name is fairly unpronounceable, but is spelt like this: Nakkachdji. Very nice too.

Bronze Cannon wins in Meydan

Bronze Cannon wins in Meydan

Earlier in the evening, Bronze Cannon scored a cosy victory in what looked a competitive conditions race. I can boast a small connection to this bay colt. As you may know, Brighton handler Gary Moore does occasionally train some runners for Bronze Cannon’s owner, Ramzan Kadyrov, to get them ready before they are transferred to Herman Brown’s Dubai yard and so it happened that Bronze Cannon followed this same path in 2010 whilst I was working for Gary.

The horse had won at Royal Ascot for John Gosden before being bought for a reported £1.3m by his current owner. I was lucky enough to ride him most days on the Downs in Brighton and I struggled to believe that this was the Bronze Cannon that I'd been sitting on. After all, he was absolutely tiny, no bigger than a pony.

To add to this, he moved like a cripple and cantered as though he needed three miles and a good load of fences in front of him! Admittedly he wasn't doing any serious work when I was with him but it just goes to show you that some horses come alive at the races and you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the gallops at home.

Regular readers will remember that I gave a good word for Luca Cumani’s Drunken Sailor last time and I almost got it right for once as he ran a blinder to finish 4th behind Whispering Gallery in the 1m6f handicap. He has obviously acclimatised well and is worth backing next time. I also mentioned the yard’s puzzlement surrounding Man of Iron’s poor runs and it seems it all came to a head this Thursday as he was pulled-up entering the straight but reports suggest that there was no serious injury to him. He’s one to steer well clear of though.

Cumani did receive some consolation when the enigmatic Presvis romped home in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya Stakes. I’m sure we all know this horse from losing plenty of money on him in the past but on his day, like this time, he is a talented animal. It remains to be seen whether he can put two good efforts together next time.

On another note, what attracts many owners, trainers and jockeys to Meydan is the apparently generous prize money. It’s all well and good promising people decent purses but reports have reached me that payments are very slow in coming and last season (which ended in March) some jockeys didn’t receive their riding fees and percentages until August. Let’s hope this wasn’t the same for the owners - if you upset them, they likely won’t be coming back in a hurry!

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To the weekend past, and altogethrer soggier, muddier and more robust racing types. And that's just the racegoers. Friday's Doncaster card had little in the ways of future clues except, perhaps, that the track was unlikely to survive for Saturday's feature meeting.

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In winning the juvenile novice hurdle, Empire Levant put the final nail in the coffin of the Franklino ante-post punt, seeing that one off by a wide margin. The bookies were singularly unimpressed with the 2.5 lengths winning verdict over Palawi, from John Quinn's yard, and still have him as a 33/1 shot.

For me, Sam Winner looks the best value in that race. Despite being beaten in a real slog at Chepstow last time, the overall balance of his form is as good as anything in here at the moment, and the remaining 12's in a few places might be worth small money.

Over at Gowran Park on Friday were some strong clues. Whilst Grands Crus may have bagged Saturday's headlines to take clear second place in the World Hurdle market (more on that in a moment), Mourad made a less well-publicised claim for the same race with an equally impressive victory over a field that included dual World Hurdle third, Powerstation.

Mourad is only a six year old, and he seems to be improving with age and racing. Third in last season's Punchestown World Hurdle, the 10/1 about this one is pretty fair. And the 5/1 without Big Buck's offered by Stan James and bet365 (1/4 1-2-3) looks an each way steal.

To Saturday's racing and most interest by far was at Cheltenham's Trials Day meeting. First up were the juvenile novices and my Third Intention aspirations were left pretty much as they were before the race.

Third Intention had been a 25/1 shot prior to proceedings and, in running two length second to Local Hero - the favourite here, he remains a 25/1 shot for the Triumph. The winner has truncated slightly, to 16's and 20's generally, but it's clear that the bookies a) are happy to take bets on any horse you want to back in this race, because b) they - and we - haven't a clue!

Moving on from the insoluble conundrum that is the current Triumph Hurdle picture, and The Giant Bolster put himself firmly in the picture for the RSA Chase - or maybe the Jewson - with an extremely game, if slightly error strewn, performance here. And herein lies the problem with ante-post betting in many of the races now.

With the Cheltenham Festival having moved to four days from three, there are now six more races. These races tend to be at intermediate distances (like the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f and the Jewson Novices' Chase over 2m4f), which means whether you fancy one in the speed races (i.e. Queen Mother Champion Chase or Arkle) or in the stayers' races (Gold Cup or RSA Chase), there's always a danger that your horse will be redirected to the intermediate (and often softer) race, thus doing the ante-post dough.

This is a problem that never used to exist, and as a number of my horses are near the top of the markets for these mid-distance races, I'm not happy. Of course, once I've recovered from my hissy fit, I'll acknowledge that it's my own fault and will make it a rule only to back horses ante-post where the race they're likely to run in is all but certain... (Trouble is, I'm far too indisciplined, and like the look of a big priced horse far too much, to ever do this!!!)

Moving on, Wishfull Thinking was a smooth and ultimately clear winner of the 2m5f novice chase, and his trainer, Philip Hobbs, seems to have improved the horse's jumping markedly. That being the case, he looks a strong contender for the Jewson Novices Chase. Or maybe the Centenary Novices Chase. Or perhaps the RSA Chase. Or... the Arkle? He's quoted in all four. How the hell are we supposed to take a view on these bloody nags?!

Assuming the ground is good to soft or better, I'd imagine he'll go for the Jewson, for which he's the 10/1 favourite. Those odds reflect more the uncertainty around which horses - including Wishfull Thinking - will run in the race. Indeed, it may very well be wishful thinking taking a price on this one for any of the novice events. Wait until plans are firmer - or you can get non-runner no bet - and take a shorter price on an insured wager.

My worst bet of the day - and for a very long time - came in the next race on Punchestowns. I figured that Nicky Henderson would have left a fair bit to work with, and he might get beaten here. But I decided he couldn't be out of the first two, bar a fall, and backed him for a place accordingly. I am an idiot, sometimes.

Tidal Bay looks a Tidy outsider for Gold Cup glory

Tidal Bay looks a Tidy outsider for Gold Cup glory

Neptune Collonges was allowed an easy lead in front, and relished it, jumping impeccably from fence to fence. He was never in any danger until Tidal Bay made his usual late challenge. Alas, it was too late and the 'Bay took silver medal honours. Punchestowns was beaten 30 lengths by the pair of them so I have no complaints.

40/1 about Tidal Bay is a decent each way bet for the Gold Cup, if you're ok with a) the fact that he might sulk and not perform and b) he might run in something else and c) he might not be good enough!

In fairness, those three imponderables can be leveled at pretty much all horseflesh two months before the races, so he'd be a more credible outsider than many.

As for Punchestowns, well I'm certain he's far better than that and, given the trainer's statements after that he'll not just have needed it but he wants to get another race into him between now and the Festival, all may not yet be lost. He's also 40's, but a stylish win in a race like the Aon Chase would see those odds halved. My suspicion is that Punchestowns may end up racing in some obscure Kelso affair (remember Zaynar's defeat there at odds of 1/14 (!!!!) last mid-February prior to a third place finish in the Champion Hurdle?).

Arguably the most competitive race of the day was the staying novice hurdle, so it was strange that Backspin was wagered to the virtual exclusion of all others. He ran probably his best race to date, but that was only good enough for fourth. The winner was another Henderson inmate, Bobs Worth, and - mindful of how many of Henderson's ran with something still to work on between now and Cup Final day - the manner of this one's victory was taking.

He is likely to take in the Neptune Novices over 2m5f at the Festival, so it's no surprise to see him installed the 5/1 favourite there. Not much value meat on those odds bones, but probably fair enough in the context of what's he's achieved and the relative certainty about which race he'll contest.

Rock On Ruby ran on resolutely to be the only danger at the last, and is 10's for the Neptune, but 14's for the Supreme. I didn't think he was stopping here, so would be surprised if he dropped back in trip to the mininum for the Supreme. But then, I'm often surprised at the actions of horses, jockeys and trainers! 😉

The 3.35 - Cleeve Hurdle - was easily the most eye-catching race, as Grands Crus continued his rapid ascent of the staying hurdler's ranks with a facile cantering win by ten lengths. Enough of the right horses finished in the right order behind him to believe this was a serious performance, and the race has been THE World Hurdle trial in recent seasons with Big Buck's and Inglis Drever using it as their springboard historically.

It has long been a contention of Nick Mordin, one of the best judges of race times / performances I know, that Big Buck's dominates a weak division. If that's the case, then the emergence of both Grands Crus and to a lesser extent Mourad, as well as potential improvers like Oscar Whisky, present serious threats to Big Buck's.

So much so, in fact, that there is a slight temptation to lay the favourite at odds on... actually, I'm not that brave, and I think there are better ways to play the race. I can certainly see Big Buck's being sent off around evens on the day though, which does offer a trading opportunity if you agree with that view.

Although I can't say why (you'll know if you are a Festival Trends member), Gavin from Nag Nag Nag will have been delighted with the result of the concluding handicap hurdle, as it sets his ante-post plunge up very nicely for the big target race at the Festival. Nice one, Gavin!

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Yesterday's Punchestown card lost some of its lustre when the opening PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase was abandoned. Historically the number one prep race for the Cross Country race at the Festival, this leaves a few key contenders - notably Sizing Australia and Garde Champetre - seeking a tune up event in the next few weeks. Expect to see them line up in modest staying hurdle affairs!

In the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase over two miles, there was a real turn up as Big Zeb was turned over by Golden Silver for the first time in five attempts. Again, the nature of the race is that I'd expect Big Zeb to easily confirm previous form if both went to Cheltenham and, in fact, the 7/2 about Zeb may be one of the best prices on any horse in any race at the Festival.

My abominable record in the race precludes me from piling in, but I will be taking a keen interest in the Zeb-edee in the Spring (geddit?!)

Hugely disappointing for me was Sizing Europe's moderate third here. It's unlikely he will run in the Champion Chase at the Festival, but the fact that he raced here implies connections are loathe to go as far as the Gold Cup either. So, the Ryanair may well be where this one lands, leaving my ante-post Gold Cup punt grounded.

Finally, in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle, the horse I was most interested to see - Byerley Bear - ran below par in fifth behind a Willie Mullins 1-2 of Gagewell Flyer and Earlson Grey. The front two pulled ten lengths clear of the rest, and added further ballast to the formidable Mullins team ahead of the Festival.

In fact, Willie had five of the six winners on the day! He may have his best ever Cheltenham Festival with established winning horses like Quevega supported by a cast of many in the novice events. Especially ask yourself Where's Willie in the handicap hurdles. Thousand Stars last year was a prime example, popping up at 20/1.

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So, the picture clears ever so slightly. Or did it getting a tad cloudier? Who can say for sure before the middle of March? Whichever way your views lie on the evidence of the last few days, the Carnivals and Festivals are barely beginning! 😀

Matt / Ross

The Spirit of Sharjah

Sharjah Racecourse

Sharjah Racecourse

Gold markets, vast shopping malls and designer outlets - Dubai has established itself as a city of monetary excess, a place where if you need to ask the price of something, you probably can’t afford it.
The horseracing is the same. In only a short time, Dubai has made a name for itself as the epicentre of glitz and glam as well as becoming a hub for the best racehorses in the world during the winter months.

The city’s newest racecourse, Meydan, can boast facilities like no other: swimming pools, hotels and restaurants - and that’s just in the half-mile long grandstand. But, like a major football club tends to find its best players through smaller feeder clubs, Meydan is not the racecourse where all horses begin their careers.
Only the best race in Dubai and so it is left to the handful of other racecourses in the United Arab Emirates to give future champions their first chance to shine.

One such course is Sharjah, a half-hour drive from Dubai’s huddled skyscrapers. Here, there is no expensive dining, no luxury spas... in fact, there’s not even an admission fee - you just turn up and enjoy the day’s action, as around two hundred locals had done when I was there. Not too bad considering the place is in the middle of nowhere.

The seven races on the card are a mix of thoroughbred and Arabian horse events with jockeys on board that would seem familiar on a wet and windy afternoon at Nottingham: riders such as Tadhg O’Shea, Royston Ffrench, Pat Dobbs and Richard Mullen all head to these sunny shores for five months of the year.

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The similarity with UK racing ends there though. The names of horses are as alien to British punters as dogs are to computers, and the form is as reliable as a French worker.

It doesn’t matter though as gambling is outlawed in the UAE, and the course is eerily quiet without a raucous choir of bookies shouting the odds. However, if the thought of going to the races without the chance to win anything is unbearable, there is a ‘Lucky Six’ competition which is free to enter - all you have to do is pick the first six winners on the card and you could win a car. The locals love it, some entering two or three times. I’m not sure if anyone has told them that the car on offer is only a Toyota.

Things are pretty routine as proceedings get underway - winners win, losers lose - all accompanied by separate commentaries at either end of the small but relatively new grandstand - one in English, the other in Arabic.

The course is a tight, left-handed affair with a deep, artificial racing surface, most comparable to Southwell back home and it provides a stern test of the horses’ stamina. Finishes are slow but close-knit nonetheless, thanks to the competitive racing provided by ten-plus runners in each heat.

Because there is no betting, those that attend the races are solely there because they are passionate about the sport. There is no pressure of winning or losing vast sums of money: rather, the spectators are watching a sport they love, pure and simple. If a locally-trained horse wins, the roof is blown off.

That is, however, the only time you will hear the crowd getting vocal. With no alcohol on sale at the track, the mass of drunks so familiar at British tracks in midsummer are absent. The atmosphere may be less absorbing as a result but at least there’s no-one to spill a pint of snakebite down your new shirt.

Sharjah may not be Ascot or Goodwood, perhaps not even Wolverhampton, but it is a racecourse and if you love the game of horseracing, you’ll feel right at home.

By Ross Birkett

Ross, son of trainer Julia Feilden, is currently enjoying a 'working holiday' in Dubai (lucky bugger!), and writes regularly on his own blog at www.sportingpost.net

Moving Up / Down / Out in Newmarket

Newmarket Stable

Newmarket Stables - who's moving in?

You would think that the end of the flat season means a time for trainers to wind down and relax until the New Year is upon us. Far from it.

Even for those trainers who do not run any of their horses on the all-weather during the dark and cold months of mid-winter, the off-season in Newmarket is still full of frantic dealings. Not for future champions, mind.

Come November, the annual hectic yard merry-go-round kicks into action and this year is not short of rumours of who is moving yards and where they may be going.

Since Simon Callaghan decided to leave these shores and set up a training establishment in America at the end of 2009, his Rathmoy Stables have not changed hands and, in recent months, the stables have been filled by overflow horses from Marco Botti’s yard just down the road.

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Callaghan took over the reins from his father, Neville, in 2007 and from the gates the family had produced Group One winners such as Danehill Dancer and Magistretti.

The outspoken Gay Kelleway has shown the keenest interest in the facility but at a valuation of £1.4m, it is only the trainers with strong financial backing who can afford such a purchase, and none have done so yet.

Kelleway, perhaps to release some equity, has put her own property up for sale. Queen Alexandra Stables just outside of Newmarket in Exning, is not the largest yard in the area but can boast one of the richer histories having sent out the 1905 Derby winner Cicero.

Kelleway has long talked about relocating her operation to France where prize money is better but claims she has ‘too many good owners to move’.

The next door neighbours have also decided to sell up. Harraton Court Stables, owned by jockey Darryll Holland, has had an absolute fortune spent on it to improve the facilities and the renovations have been seen to good effect with current tenant, Des Donovan, having one of his best seasons to date.

At the same price as Kelleway’s yard of just under £1m, the pair may struggle to find buyers in such tricky financial times. Many thought Holland’s purchase were a signal for his intentions to become a trainer after he retired from riding but now it is clear that he just wants to make a quick return on his investment.

On the other side of Newmarket, Classic-winning handler Peter Chapple-Hyam has also put the ‘For Sale’ sign up outside of his yard.

Since winning the Derby with Authorized in 2007, numbers have surprisingly dwindled at Machell Place Stables. Some cite these losses to the trainer being distracted by other aspects of his life whilst others say he has just been a severe casualty of the ‘credit crunch’.

Either way, £1.5m will buy you his six-bedroom house, 39 stables and staff cottage. Sussex trainer Gary Moore has shown an interest in the property, as well as a desire to relocate to the headquarters of racing, but having just spent a reported £3m to acquire Charles Cyzer’s old yard in Horsham, the move looks unlikely.

The rumour mill continues to turn...

Ross Birkett [Ross is a qualified journalist, and writes regularly on his own blog at www.sportingpost.net. He is also the son of trainer Julia Feilden, and has ridden nine winners under rules.]

Adam Beschizza, Champion Apprentice Elect Interview

Adam Beschizza

Adam Beschizza: Fighting out the Champion Apprentice title this season

Who is the odd one out from Martin Lane, John Fahy and Adam Beschizza? All three jockeys are currently in a nail-biting battle to win this season’s apprentice championship, yet one of them can boast of a remarkable achievement.

The last-named rider has become a punters’ favourite this year with his reliability when on board favourites and his strength against more experienced jockeys yet, remarkably, unlike the rest of his championship rivals, he is only in his first full season with a licence.

Born and bred in Newmarket, 18-year old Beschizza (pronounced ‘biscuit-sir’) has long been touted by those closest to him as a future star. After learning to ride on ponies, he graduated to bigger and faster animals when he was 13 years old and is now based with his aunt, Julia Feilden.

Ross Birkett managed to have a chat with him during a busy day’s racing at Lingfield Park:

RB: You have ridden 35 winners in your first season riding, could you ever have imagined things to go so well?

AB: Obviously, I’d hoped to get a few winners and start picking up rides from outside trainers but it’s amazed me how far I’ve come in my first season. You know, I had my first winner in March and if you’d said then that by the end of the year I’d have ridden nearly 40 winners and for people like the Queen, I’d have been shocked.

RB: What are your plans to take this progress further?

AB: Well, you know, the main target at the minute is to win the apprentice championship. Martin [Lane] will be hard to catch as he’s five ahead of me [on 38 wins] and he rides for a big yard like David Simcock but he picked up a four day ban today [Tuesday], so I could catch him up if I’m lucky.

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After this season, I’m hoping to go to Florida for a couple of months to ride track work. It will be good to get away from the all-weather racing for a bit and I will improve my riding a hell of a lot out there and come back fresh and ready for the new year.

RB: Who has been the biggest help to you this year?

AB: Obviously, Julia [Feilden] has got me started and been great in letting me ride for other people but all the trainers have played a part in getting me this far. My agent, Paul Clarke, has got me some good rides for big trainers like Michael Bell and Roger Charlton.

Some of the jockeys keep themselves to themselves but William Buick has always been there to give me advice. I respect him because he had success quite early in his career and now has a good job with John Gosden.

RB: You have already ridden at 28 different racecourses this year, do you have a favourite?

AB: I seem to ride a lot of winners at Bath [seven, with a 30% strike-rate] and I do like riding the track but you can have a good day there, get in the car to go home and realise you have three hours to go, which is a bit depressing. Obviously, Newmarket is nice to ride at because it’s local and there’s top racing there.

I hate Southwell because the kick-back is so bad if you’re in behind and the course at Epsom is a bit of a gaff-track. [Though Adam still managed to win the Apprentice Derby there].

RB: And any favourite horses?

AB: Obviously, I rode my first winner on Bavarica so she is a favourite of mine but I have also won lots on Poppanan [trained by Simon Dow and owned by Joe Cole] and Rough Rock [trained by Chris Dwyer].

RB: You have also ridden the geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse Khajaaly twice, what is your opinion of him?

AB: I used to ride him at Ed Dunlop’s before I got a licence and, you know, I’ve always liked him. When Julia bought him, he had had a long season with Ed and since his break, he has been going a lot better. Actually, I galloped him this morning and he felt like a different horse. There was a lot more life in him than before.

RB: You have risen through the ranks very quickly but what has been the biggest challenge?

AB: Well, at first I was doing very light weights like 7st 13lbs and I found it hard but I was doing it because I needed to ride as much as possible and get my name in the paper. But, you know, as things picked up, I am now able to not take rides below 8st 2lbs which is a weight I can comfortably manage and be my strongest at.

RB: So what can we expect Adam Beschizza to be doing in years to come?

AB: Obviously, we will take each day as it comes but I think that when I get down to my 3lb claim [after 50 career wins], I will have to move to a bigger yard where I’ll get rides when I do lose my claim. Julia understands this and it is all part of the plan.

I would love to win a Classic like all jockeys and just to be riding winners regularly and making a living out of being a jockey is my dream.

[My thanks to Ross Birkett for conducting this interview and providing the report]