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A Tale Of Two Miles – by Henry De Bromhead

Henry De Bromhead is in the midst of another successful campaign, currently lying fourth in the Irish Trainers Championship.

It’s little more than a year since the Potts family moved their horses from the County Waterford stable, yet a potentially devastating blow sparked something of a revival in the yard’s fortunes. The arrival of several Gigginstown-owned horses certainly softened the blow, and last season proved to be one of the best, with five victories at Grade One level, including a thrilling success in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham for Special Tiara.

That two-mile division over fences has proved a rich vein of success over the years, typified by stable star Sizing Europe. Described by the trainer as a horse of a lifetime, the stunning chaser won six Grade One’s over fences, including an Arkle and a Champion Chase at Prestbury Park.

The stable possibly lacks that equine star at present, though there’s several young chasers that have the potential of stepping into those sizeable horseshoes.

Petit Mouchoir put in a stunning display to win his chasing debut at Punchestown. Already a Grade One winner over hurdles, the seven-year-old was third in last year’s Champion Hurdle. Sadly, he’s been off the track since Punchestown, but looks likely to return at Leopardstown in a couple of weeks. There’s the likelihood of a tasty clash with Footpad, though I’m sure De Bromhead would settle for a safe round of jumping, with the prospect of sharpening up his youngster for a serious crack at the Arkle Chase in March. I’m a huge fan of this exuberant front-runner, and fancy he’ll replicate Sizing Europe, assuming he returns to the Cotswolds in peak physical shape.

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De Bromhead has the current Champion Chase winner in the yard, though Special Tiara will face a much tougher task should Altior line-up against him. He defeated Fox Norton in a thrilling victory back in March, and though now an 11-year-old, is said by his trainer to be ‘as good as ever’. He needs a sound surface to be at his best, and should the return of Altior fail to materialize, he’d be a decent each-way proposition at around 20/1.

Balko Des Flos and Monalee are another pair that give De Bromhead hope of further festival glory. The former ran a cracker last time, when runner-up in the Christmas Chase (formerly Lexus) at Leopardstown. He’s another from the yard that needs better ground to shine, and is likely to get that at Cheltenham in March. He’s as short as 10s for the Ryanair and more than twice those odds for the Gold Cup. He’d be a serious player for the shorter trip on decent ground.

Though a faller last time, Monalee remains favourite for the RSA in March. The seven-year-old was runner-up in last year’s Albert Bartlett, but must now prove that the fall at Leopardstown has not left its mark. He looks set to run there again in February before the trip to Prestbury Park. He appears to be Ireland’s leading three-mile novice chaser.

De Bromhead would also have been thrilled with the return to action of Valseur Lido. It’s worth remembering that this talented chaser is still only nine, and should he return to his best he’s more than capable of a huge performance at the Cheltenham Festival. It’s nearing a couple of years since he finished runner-up to Vautour in the Ryanair Chase, and that sort of display would see him competitive at the highest level. He’s as big as 50s for the Gold Cup, a race that previous trainer Willie Mullins, felt he was tailor-made for.

Another from the yard that may prove interesting if sent to Cheltenham, is Ordinary World. Third in last year’s Arkle, this eight-year-old son of Milan is shy of top-class, but his handicap mark may well make him an interesting contender for the Grand Annual, should connections go that route. He’s ultra-consistent over fences, and must have decent ground to produce his best.

Of his younger crop, De Bromhead’s Paloma Blue could prove a surprise package when stepped-up in trip. He’ll be a better horse when sent over fences, but was an impressive winner at Leopardstown over Christmas at the minimum trip over hurdles. He’s bred to stay further and whether he proves good enough for the Ballymore in March remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he is one for the notebook, and a track like Cheltenham, with the stiff uphill finish may well prove ideal for this powerful looking youngster.

De Bromhead’s record at Cheltenham in both the Champion Chase and the Arkle is eye-catching. His team are firing on all cylinders, and he’s very much a trainer to have at the forefront of your mind when The Festival arrives.

When Classy Hurdlers Go Chasing…

There is understandable excitement when a high-class hurdler proven in open company goes chasing, writes Tony Keenan. The horse may have been Champion or Stayers Hurdle level with a mark in the high-150s or even 160s and the expectation is that they will translate that form to fences. However, I’m generally sceptical of this kind of prospective chaser, working off the truism that it is difficult to teach older horses new tricks.

Just as in the human world where a young child can pick up a new language with relative ease, older people tend to struggle with learning a foreign tongue. It makes sense that this would apply with horses too. The typical national hunt horse might start its career in bumpers at the backend end of its fourth or fifth year, run two or three times before being put away for novice hurdles the following season where it might have four or five runs. As a then six- or seven-year-old, it would then go chasing rather than stay over hurdles. Those horses that do stay over hurdles seem at a disadvantage as a larger proportion of their short careers are spent doing something other than chasing and this lack of practice can prove detrimental to their prospects over fences.

That’s the theory at least but with all theories it’s best to test them against a body of evidence. Ideally, I wanted to look at the record of horses going chasing that had varying numbers of hurdles runs but unfortunately the excellent HorseRaceBase didn’t have the facility to run that system which must be the only thing missing from their database; if any readers have access to other databases they might like to look at the figures for themselves. So instead I took a different tack and decided to look at the records of the best chasers in Ireland along with the best hurdlers (non-novices) that went chasing in the same jurisdiction.

I began with the 50 top-rated chasers in Ireland currently, a listed that is topped by Don Cossack on 177 and completed by Mozoltov on 149. Of those top 50, only five were better over hurdles than over fences and in many cases the differences were minimal; they were Champagne Fever (chase 156, hurdle 157), Rule The World (153, 156), Shaneshill (153, 156), Zabana (153, 155) and Identity Thief (150, 159). Of the 27 chasers rated highest, only one (Un De Sceaux) had more than one season over hurdles and the average seasons spent hurdling across the top 50 was 1.2, the average hurdle runs being 6.6. The vast majority of our top chasers have gone over fences directly after their novice hurdle season with their average hurdles mark being 141.9 and their average chase figure 156.6, an improvement of just over a stone, and a number we’ll return to later. This improvement is readily explainable as there is only so high most novice hurdlers can rate given the races in which they run.

Next, I looked at the record of the best Irish horses who spent at least two seasons over hurdles that later went chasing. Starting with the 2006/7 season to present, there were 31 such horses and they are listed below with their peak hurdle and chase marks (for those that didn’t get official marks I made an estimate based on what they achieved):

 

Horse Hurdle Mark Chase Mark Difference Chase Runs Chase Wins
Taglietelle 154 125 29 5 0
Monksland 157 149 8 7 2
Identity Thief 159 150 9 3 2
Alpha Des Obeaux 158 147 11 5 2
Diamond King 157 148 9 3 1
Lieutenant Colonel 156 149 7 4 1
Gwencily Berbas 151 130 21 3 0
Briar Hill 155 142 13 4 1
Kitten Rock 160 148 12 4 4
Tiger Roll 150 146 4 10 3
Rebel Fitz 155 155 0 9 6
Un De Sceaux 156 172 -16 10 6
Oscars Well 162 152 10 12 2
Rule The World 158 150 8 15 1
Tarla 150 144 6 6 2
So Young 158 115 43 2 0
Whatuthink 152 143 9 21 1
Donnas Palm 161 140 21 17 2
Blackstairmountain 152 147 5 6 2
Oscar Dan Dan 151 128 23 4 1
Shinrock Paddy 150 136 14 10 0
Powerstation 157 130 27 9 2
Muirhead 158 143 15 21 3
Catch Me 164 141 23 10 1
Aitmatov 160 131 29 8 0
Sizing Europe 167 177 -10 31 17
Jered 158 142 16 8 1
Harchibald 166 143 23 1 0
Sonnyanjoe 150 116 34 5 0
Adamant Approach 151 142 9 16 4
Rosaker 154 120 34 1 1

 

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The most obvious point to make about classy hurdlers going chasing is that they regress for the switch to the tune of about a stone. There are exceptions, notably Sizing Europe, but also Un De Sceaux and Rebel Fitz; but as a general rule this is probably a negative move which brings up the question of why connections might want to do this. If the motivation is that the horse will improve for fences, the evidence suggests this is unlikely but if it is simply that they want to pick up some soft races back against novice chasers then it is probably a fair move; the horse may have reached its ceiling in open company over hurdles and be disqualified from races it can win whereas the switch to fences opens up other avenues.

Jumping would be a concern with these switchers but it is not necessarily backed up by the statistics; this group of classy hurdlers had a fall/unseat rate of 8.1%, which is below average. I covered this in an article last year and the national average in the period covered is around 10%. That said, I do wonder if these horses are more careful at their fences than those who went chasing earlier in their careers.

Of the 32 horses listed above, Noel Meade had seven of them (Monksland, Donnas Palm, Muirhead, Aitmatov, Jered, Harchibald and Rosaker) and it’s hard to make a case that any of them were much of a success over fences: Muirhead may have won a Munster National but that feels fluky along the lines of Tiger Roll’s win the in the same race and Rule The World’s Grand National victory this past year. If any punter found that pair, I admire your perseverance and hope your bank was still intact!

Willie Mullins had six such horses and Un De Sceaux has been a triumph, especially given his early jumping woes, but Henry De Bromhead is the one that stands out. From a single classy hurdler going chasing, he produced Sizing Europe which gives hope for the long-term prospects of currently injured Identity Thief who fits a similar mould.

It has been understandably difficult for these classy hurdlers, many of whom will have competed and even won at Grade 1 level over hurdles, to compete at the top level though there is an interesting contrast to how such horses do over different trips. Both Sizing Europe and Un De Sceaux won a number of Grade 1 chases around two miles as did Blackstairmountain, Barker and Mansony. The record of such horses over staying trips however is dismal with only Zabana at the most recent Punchestown Festival winning a Grade 1 chase over three miles or further.

Interestingly, this is backed up by the hurdles record of the winners of the feature chases at the Cheltenham Festival. Recent winners of the Champion Chase like Sire De Grugy, Dodging Bullets, Sizing Europe and Moscow Flyer all spent an extra season over hurdles but we have to go back to Imperial Call in 1996 to find the last Gold Cup winner who didn’t go straight over fences after its novice hurdle season.

All of which brings us nicely on to the current season where Thistlecrack is making a mockery of any such concerns in the staying chase division. But great horses will always make general rules seem silly and I’d be more interested in how the more typical classy hurdler going chasing will do. In the current season, we have seven such horses and the early returns have been ordinary. The group comprises Taglietelle, Identity Thief, Alpha Des Obeaux, Diamond King, Lieutenant Colonel, Gwencily Berbas and Briar Hill. While Identity Thief might yet make the grade over fences – he has both trip preference and trainer in his favour – most of the others are likely to compete over further and history points to them falling well short of their hurdles high in this sphere.

- Tony Keenan

De Bromhead Fights Back

As Mullins and Elliott launch into a titanic struggle for Ireland’s trainers’ title, so Noel Meade and Henry de Bromhead set about leading the chasing pack.

I recently wrote of Meade’s impressive start to the latest campaign, and the yard’s outstanding form was confirmed with a treble at Punchestown on Saturday. De Bromhead’s place towards the top of charts, comes despite a seismic shock as the season began.

News broke in September that owners Alan and Ann Potts had ended their association with Henry de Bromhead, and had removed 13 horses from the Waterford trainer’s yard. An alliance that had brought huge success for almost a decade had finally come to an end.

The shining light of the union was of course Champion Chaser Sizing Europe. He won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2007, before victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle a couple of months later. Made favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, he looked the winner when cruising into contention, but faded rapidly in the latter stages. His trainer later reported that he’d suffered a back injury.

It was when switched to fences in 2009 that Sizing Europe’s career leapt to another level. He won the Arkle Chase as a novice and a year later took the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He went on to win six Grade 1s, including the Tingle Creek in 2011 and the Punchestown Champion Chase in 2012 and 2014. He was retired at the end of the 2015 campaign having won more than £1,300,000 in prize money.

But he was by no means the only Potts-De Bromhead success story. Sizing Australia took the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival, and twice won Punchestown’s equivalent. More recently, Shanahan’s Turn won the valuable and prestigious Galway Plate, and the talented Sizing John had captured a Grade 1 over hurdles before proving himself a top-class chaser when chasing home Douvan in the Arkle. Connections also produced the talented yet diminutive grey, Smashing, to win a pair of Grade 2s over fences.

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Despite the pre-season blow, De Bromhead has knuckled down to the task of producing winners. And with a strike-rate of 18%, and 34 wins already on the board, he’s doing a terrific job.

The Waterford handler has benefitted from the arrival of Gigginstown’s useful young chaser, Sub Lieutenant. His seasonal return at Limerick was eye-catching, and the seven-year-old may well prove competitive at the highest level this winter. He was third for Sandra Hughes in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown back in April, and looks to have a bright future.

De Bromhead already has a potential star chaser in the yard, with young novice Identity Thief. Another owned by Gigginstown, he looked a natural at Punchestown over the weekend, and is set to take high rank over the coming months.

The trainer will also be excited by the return of Sadler’s Risk, who romped to victory in a Grade 3 chase earlier in the month. The handicapper is sure to make life difficult for the talented eight-year-old, but he looks a staying chaser with plenty more to offer. Already a winner of the Munster National, the trainer is sure to have Aintree on his mind.

Another novice chaser worth keeping a close eye on, is recent Grade 3 winner Three Stars. More than handy over hurdles, the son of Westerner is already two from three over the larger obstacles. His breeding suggests a step-up in trip is on the cards, and he could prove a surprise package this winter and beyond.

De Bromhead also tasted success at Cheltenham last week, when Heron Heights led home stable companion Full Cry in the stayers’ novice chase. Showing a terrific attitude up the famous hill, he could be one for the four-miler back at Cheltenham in March. Decent ground appears to suit, so don’t be surprised if he disappoints in deep winter conditions.

Since taking over from his father in 1999, De Bromhead has continued to build a powerful team at his Waterford base. Success and failure go hand in hand in this unpredictable sport, and this latest chapter in his training career must have proved a testing time. Nevertheless, this talented trainer has plenty to be optimistic about, and looks set for another lucrative and successful campaign.

Road To Riches begins at Clonmel

Gold Cup third Road To Riches

Gold Cup third Road To Riches

A small yet select field have assembled for today’s Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase, with €30,875 up for grabs.

In its short history the race has been won by some of Ireland’s very best chasers. The Roll of Honour includes Imperial Call, Beef or Salmon, War of Attrition and Sizing Europe. The race is run over two and half miles and was last year won emphatically by Willie Mullins’ classy gelding Champagne Fever.

Mullins has been successful in the last two renewals and saddles Felix Yonger this time round. Now a nine-year-old, the son of Oscar has won six and finished second three times in his 11 chase starts. His record suggests he’s happy on any ground and was last seen winning the Grade 1 Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown. Mullins said of his runner: “He seems in good form and had a great end to his campaign last season.”

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Giggginstown are set to be represented by First Lieutenant and the Gold Cup third Road To Riches. Top rated in the race, Noel Meade’s eight-year-old is stepping back in trip but has proved adaptable in previous campaigns. He thrashed a decent field in the Galway Plate last year before losing out by a head to Sizing Europe at Gowran Park over today’s trip. He enjoys making the running and I would be surprised if the distance proved a problem.

Meade appeared positive when speaking of his star chaser, saying: “There will be no excuses on the fitness front. We took him to Naas last weekend and he did a piece at the Curragh before that. I’m looking forward to getting a run into him and getting his season going. It looks like it is going to be some year for staying chasers both here and across the water.”

First Lieutenant is set to take his chance though his form tailed off badly last year. His rating has dropped from a high of 170 in 2013 to its current 147, and although he gets half a stone from the main protagonists it’s hard to see him being competitive.

Mallowney will be taking on the trip for only the second time in his chasing career. He’s probably at his best with give in the ground and is not without a chance. His pedigree suggests the trip would be fine but he appears to have a little to find if he is to get the better of Felix Yonger.

If fit enough Road To Riches should be good enough, though this is very much a starting point for a horse that will be aimed at all the major staying events over the winter.

Special Tiara – Stylish winner of Sandown’s Celebration Chase

Special Tiara

Upwardly Mobile Special Tiara

Sandown on Saturday was simply sensational. Tony McCoy received a truly wonderful send-off from a sell-out crowd.

The horse racing fraternity came together in a celebration of the greatest jockey of all-time. AP was understandably reduced to tears and reflected on the day speaking to At The Races saying: “It was very difficult to take it all in. The great racing public came out in force and I was thrilled by it all. I don't think I have ever cried before because of the sheer emotion of what a day was like."

But as well as saying a fond farewell to the jump racing legend, the Sandown public were treated to some quality racing. In particular Henry de Bromhead’s chaser Special Tiara continued on his steep upward curve and cemented his place as one of the leading two milers. He took the Celebration Chase in impressive fashion, in a decent time on the softer than anticipated ground, adding this Grade 1 victory to his Grade 2 success in the Desert Orchid Chase back in December.

A typically bold front-running display saw him pull clear two from home, but what impressed most was the way he maintained the run to the line on this stiffer track. He is definitely learning to settle better in his races as he gets older, which is allowing him to finish off a race to greater effect. To my eyes, this looked to be a career best performance.

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His trainer was also impressed, saying: “He was brilliant. I was amazed how well he was going coming to the Pond fence. He seemed to come out of Noel's hands at the last and was full of running.”

At Cheltenham in the Champion Chase he had run with great credit finishing third to Dodging Bullets. He still looked a little too buzzy that day, and De Bromhead has the task of getting his eight-year-old to settle just slightly better in the ‘big one’. If he can, he would have every chance of picking up the major prize he won with stablemate Sizing Europe back in 2011, when coincidently, he was a maturing nine-year-old.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting him to 16-1 (from 25) for next year's Betway Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Those odds look quite generous to me.

Saturday’s race was also notable for the return to form of Sprinter Sacre. Henderson’s superstar is clearly still some way short of his best, but in finishing second he ran with more zest, and probably came close to the form he showed in his seasonal opener behind Dodging Bullets. I’ve watched the race over again and again, and can’t help feeling that he still looked ‘bulky’. I wonder just how much Henderson got ‘stuck into him’ this season, maybe fearing a repeat of the career threatening injury of December 2013.

The trainer’s comments after the race appeared telling, when he said: “I have to be pleased with that as he looked fantastic and he ran his race. I think we had reason to come here to see how he did in his next race. I don't see any reason to stop and we can build on that. He made a bit of a noise at Cheltenham but made no noise today and there was no sign of blood. He travelled well and finished his race - that was a shoot.”

It’s possible that another summer on his back, and a rigorous pre-season with renewed confidence in his well-being, could see a fair bit of improvement from the former champion.

So as the Jumps season draws to a close, and racing adjusts to losing the Champ, fans have plenty to look forward too, when we gather to do it all again next winter.

The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle – Stars Will Shine

Forpadydeplasterer

Forpadydeplasterer with Adoring Fans

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Clonmel Oil Chase Preview

Sizing Europe bids for a second Clonmel Oil Chase win

Sizing Europe bids for a second Clonmel Oil Chase win

The jumps season ratchets up several notches as we head into the weekend. From tomorrow, it's three days of Cheltenham action for their Open meeting; and as an introduction to that, we've an excellent races at Clonmel this afternoon, the Clonmel Oil Chase.

2.25 Clonmel Oil Chase (Grade 2) 2m4f

Seven face the starter for this Grade 2 event, with the market headed by National Hunt superstar, Sizing Europe, and National Hunt superstar, Champagne Fever! Both have won twice at the Cheltenham Festival and, though there is a five year age gap, both arrive here with similar looking chances.

Sizing Europe won the race two years ago, then aged ten, and, now rising thirteen, he's still the one to beat with stamina assured. We keep waiting for the inevitable decline in form, but he keeps defying us. Sure, he's not the beast he was: the figures tell us he's now rated 165 having been 177 in his pomp.

But 165 gets the job done in plenty of Grade 2 races, and he'll have no fears on the score of track, trip, ground (which is very heavy, he's five from five on heavy), or class. A Grade 1 win at the Punchestown Festival two starts back and a Grade 2 over this trip at Gowran last time attest to his wellbeing.

But he's not the favourite. No, Sizing Europe is a 15/8 chance generally, with Champagne Fever 5/6 in most books. Champagne Fever has a bit to prove today: just one of his four chase runs thus far have culminated in victory, though the three defeats were in Grade 1 company, and one of them was an honourable effort (head second in the Arkle at Cheltenham).

There's also the question mark about the heavy ground for a horse whose fitness on his first run for 196 days is likely to be a peg short of some of these. Still, reservations aside, he receives a chunky eleven pound allowance from Sizing Europe and I suspect that will be material.

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In truth, if they finish 1-2, we'll probably have watched a fine race, but I'm not tempted to back the favourite at the price, and I'm keen to find something to beat both he and Sizing. A pity then that there are only seven runners, and therefore two places for each way betting purposes.

The remaining quintet are rated - and weighted - on inferior terms to Champagne Fever, but there might be circumstantial evidence to justify a bet amongst them.

Let's start by discounting a couple if we can. Firstly, there's been no money for Alderwood, and he's yet to do anything noteworthy beyond two miles over fences. The combination of trip and deep ground might find him out.

Nor are the vibes at all strong about Rathlin, fourth in this race in 2012. He's been running his better races on quicker ground since then, and looks sure to improve for his first spin since early April. That leaves Rubi Light, Roi Du Mee and Realt Mor, all of whom are mildly interesting in a race with more R's than a pirate's elocution class.

There's a chance that Champagne Fever may not try to lead here, in which case Roi Du Mee could set the tempo. It's pretty hard to quicken out of heavy ground so if Gordon Elliott's charge goes get an easy time of it, this five time heavy ground winner could be hard to reel in, despite being a stone 'wrong' at the weights.

Stablemate Realt Mor has been nibbled at, and can also mix it on the front. He's more versatile pace wise, however, and I'd expect to see him let others dictate today. His heavy ground form - two heavy defeats, pun intended - is a niggle, but he does have Grade 1 winning form at the distance on soft. Two heavy ground runs cannot really be considered definitive, but I'd prefer an animal proven in the quag.

Rubi Light looked highly promising in the early part of his career, but he hasn't really gone on in the last two years. He does have three wins at the trip, two of them on heavy ground, though, so is well suited by conditions; and he shouldn't want for fitness having run in a couple of schooling races since last seen 'officially' in February.

It's a cracking little race, more one to watch than to bet on, and I think Sizing Europe is the most likely winner despite conceding plenty of weight to Champagne Fever (he's only two pounds 'wrong'). For those who like to tilt at windmills, Roi Du Mee could give you a run for small money at about 25/1.

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the highlight of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, and one of the showpieces of the entire week. This year's race looks intriguing, with defending champion Sprinter Sacre bidding to overcome that uncharacteristic blip on his last start, and clear second choice Sire de Grugy with course questions to answer.

It's double figures any other horse you like, so this could be a belting wagering opportunity. In this post, I'll look at the Champion Chase trends, preview the form, and offer a tip or two for the race. Let's start with the trends...

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Trends

Horses of all ages, from five through to eleven, have won this race in recent years. However, the percentage play, in terms of strike rate is to ignore horses with double digit ages.

Since 1997, of the fourteen horses to complete on their previous start, eleven won, another was second, and the other two were third. Two of the seven horses to fall or unseat last time went on to win the Champion Chase. None of the six that pulled up last time has finished better than fifth  - a sextet which included Florida Pearl and Flagship Uberalles. A certain Sprinter Sacre pulled up last time...

Since 2000, of the ten winners to have an official rating, all were rated at least 160. Tilting at this prize may be wishful thinking then for Module, Astracad, Hinterland and, erm, Wishfull Thinking.

All of the last ten winners had their final prep race in the previous 30-60 days. Favourite Sprinter Sacre has not been seen for 75 days, when he pulled up after a mile...

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview

Those are the trends then and, aside from a couple of strikes for favourite, Sprinter Sacre, there's little of utility in whittling the field. However, that is quite a significant 'apart from', so let's inspect the case for the reigning champion.

Sprinter Sacre began the 2013/2014 season as the biggest certainty of the Cheltenham Festival. He was in possession of a ten race unbeaten record over fences, and had scored stratospheric Timeform, Racing Post and Official figures. He was just 2/9 to extend that sequence to eleven at the principle expense of his main Champion Chase ante-post rival, Sire de Grugy, in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

But it didn't go to plan. Oh boy, did it not go to plan. Sprinter Sacre was pulled up after running little more than a mile and jumping little more than half of the dozen fences. In Sprinter's absence, Sire de Grugy galloped to a workmanlike four length victory over Oiseau de Nuit.

It was subsequently discovered that Sprinter Sacre had suffered a heart irregularity, which appears to have righted itself. Now, I don't know about you, but that's not the sort of thing I want to hear when I'm mulling pulling on the punting boots at even money or shorter.

The facts with Sprinter Sacre are that he has easily the best form in the race, but in the past eleven months he has completed only about a mile of a single contest. Medical fitness, as well as match fitness, have to be taken on trust. Of course, if he is medically sound and he is pitch perfect for Cheltenham Wednesday, he'll be very hard to beat. And I will be prepared to cheer with the rest if we have our champion back on the big day.

But that's sentiment. When it comes to betting, I wouldn't touch Sprinter Sacre with a very long bargepole.

The obvious one against him is Sire de Grugy, a horse that has won eight of his eleven chases and been second twice more. I have to declare an interest here: I backed him - and recommended readers back him - when he was 16/1. Here's what I wrote on December 9th 2013:

I was taken with the way Sire De Grugy won at Sandown, having not been a huge fan of his in the past, and I backed him each way for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race which is seriously lop-sided.

Here’s my rationale: Sire de Grugy is likely to go for the Queen Mum. Sprinter Sacre is too, assuming he can be got fit, and his current issue is resolved. We all hope that will be the case. If it is, Simonsig will surely run in the Ryanair, having won the Neptune over the longer trip a good bit more impressively than he did the Arkle over the shorter trip.

Cue Card may tilt at the Gold Cup itself if running close in the King George and, at any rate, would surely go at the Ryanair if not quite getting home around Kempton on Boxing Day.

Flemenstar could go for the Queen Mum, but is more likely to race over two-five in the Ryanair. Certainly his racing history suggests that’s the place for him. Kid Cassidy may be aimed at the Grand Annual again, though he’d have a stone-plus more to carry than when second last year.

Arvika Ligeonniere got found out in the Arkle last term, and will probably go Ryanair. And that leaves the third of the Henderson horses, Captain Conan. It was far from a disastrous run in third behind Sire De Grugy and, while expected to be fit enough to go close, he’s sure to come on for the run. But he does have ten pounds to find with SdG on official ratings, which are unlikely to change much as a result of the Tingle Creek outcome.

So, basically, if Sprinter Sacre runs in the Champion Chase, I contend that a fair number of others will dodge him and go for what could be one of the races of the Festival, the Ryanair. Sire De Grugy will not. He will stand his ground, and 16/1 (quarter the odds the first three) in what could be a small field of few realistic chances, seemed fair enough to me.

If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t run for whatever reason, Simonsig and a good few of the others might line up in the Champion Chase instead. In that case, it will likely be a much more competitive race, improving Sire de Grugy’s win chance whilst arguably diminishing his place prospects.

Still with me? OK, well that was the rationale.

A nice looking voucher, but will Sire de Grugy win?

A nice looking voucher, but will he win?

If we could back Sire de Grugy now at 16/1, we obviously would. But we can't. He's now a top price of 11/4 and, given his course record, that's no better than a bit tight. Specifically, SdG has run twice at Cheltenham and finished second twice.

Both were chases, both were at two miles, and both saw him upsides at the last and then outpaced up the hill.

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16/1 each way is still a great bet, not least because I (and others) have 4/1 about the place 1,2,3 - and there may not even be enough runners for three places!

But 11/4 about the win is hard to recommend, even without an ante-post voucher.

So, the good news is that if we're against both Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy, it's 10/1 bar that pair. The bad news is that picking and choosing between the remaining fifteen engaged at time of writing is not that easy.

First of all, I am happy to put a line through any horse with an established level of form and a rating below 160. That means arrivederci to Wishfull Thinking and Astracad.

Module is difficult to dismiss completely, as is Hinterland. Both are progressive and both have scope to run to 160+. Module won the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase last time, beating Dodging Bullets a neck. Dodging Bullets is a fine novice and was giving the winner three pounds, but that's hardly Champion Chase-winning form.

The other thing with Module is that he seems to want deep ground. His three chase wins have all been in heavy ground and, though he did bag a handicap at the course on good to soft, it's likely he simply outclassed his rivals that day on his first British start. If the ground is heavy on the day, he is better than a 20/1 shot, his current price. Otherwise, he's not. He also has an entry in the Ryanair.

Hinterland is still a novice and, as such, is more likely to go the Arkle route than take on the big boys here. If he did line up, he'd still need another leap forward after a leap forward the last day, when he won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown. He's ground agnostic at least, so no worries on that score, but he's unlikely to be good enough even if he runs.

Benefficient is the third choice in the betting for the Champion Chase, and he's another for whom the Ryanair is a compelling alternative engagement - he won the novice equivalent at last year's Festival. But he's not short of pace, as two Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown demonstrate. Whether he's got the sort of gears needed to prevail in this is another question and, even with the non-runner no bet concession, I'd not be drawn to his chance especially.

Captain Conan is a general 12/1 chance, and also has a Ryanair entry. He's rated 161 and has a verdict over Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham to his name, over this trip. That was in the November Novices' Chase of 2012, and both horses have improved markedly since. Captain Conan was found a bit wanting in the Jewson (now JLT) last year, but was a good third to Sire de Grugy at Sandown on his seasonal bow this term.

The problem is that he hasn't run since that race, on 7th December, meaning he has an absence of 95 days to overcome. History screams that very few horses win at the Festival in any race after such an absence and it's the scratch treatment for him on the back of that alone.

And then comes the enigmatic Arvika Ligeonniere. I love this horse. On his day, he's a proper sort. The Irish handicapper has him at 166 and he's a four-time Grade 1-winning nine-year-old. He has the toe for two but has plenty of form at two and a half too (did you like all those toes and two's?!). So it won't surprise you that he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, over 2m5f.

True, he was awful when pulling up (carrying my money) in the Arkle last year, but he was a 15/2 chance that day and, if that was a blip, then 12/1 non-runner no bet (or 14/1 all in run or not) is a fair win only wager.

Al Ferof is still quoted in the Champion Chase, despite his trainer previously saying they were aiming him at the Gold Cup. That was before he looked to fail to stay the three miles of the Denman Chase last time, and he's probably more likely to go for the Ryanair now. He's a very strong traveling horse and, again with the non-runner no bet concession in our corner, he's worth a small interest at 16/1.

Winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle of 2011, having been second in the Champion Bumper the year before, he disappointed in the 2012 Arkle (fourth) before missing last year's Festival. The balance of his form suggests 2m5f might be optimal but he's got the speed for this, if re-routed.

We're still in the realms of the 16/1 pokes, and Kid Cassidy is next on the casting couch for the Champion Chase. So that's KC on the cc for the CC. He's a very in and out horse. When he's good, he's very good, as when trumping Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham in November; or when finishing second in last year's Grand Annual. Whether that's enough to claim this coveted prize is another question and, on balance, I imagine it's probably not.

Somersby has been called plenty of names over the years, and has often looked like a horse without a trip. But he has just the one entry - in this - at the Festival, and he's performed with merit going all the way back to the Supreme of 2009 (3rd of 20 behind Go Native that day). He was then second in the 2010 Arkle, 5th in the 2011 Champion Chase, 7th in the 2012 Ryanair, and unseated in the 2013 Champion Chase.

Somersby also unseated last time out, behind Sire de Grugy, but between those jockey exits, he won the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup and was second in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek. He retains a good bit of speed and class and, if he can iron that recent tendency to decant Dominic Elsworth from his back, he's not a forlorn place hope in a potentially open year.

Sizing Europe deserves a mention. Now twelve, he's won an Arkle (2010) and a Champion Chase (2011), and eighteen other races in a stellar career. He's more likely to head to the Ryanair (where have you heard that before?) but a Cheltenham Festival Arkle/Champion Chase record of 1122 is impressive even given his advancing years. After all, he was eleven when finishing second last year.

It would be truly amazing if he was win the Champion Chase at his veteran age, but stranger things have happened and 25/1 non-runner no bet is another tempting snippet, perhaps even each way this time.

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips

It's a real head-scratcher is the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2014. With doubts about the pair which dominate the market, it's worth firing a few bullets further down the lists, especially with the non-runner no bet concession in play. I'd spread four points as follows:

1 point win Arvika Ligeonniere (12/1 non-runner no bet, general - check your bookie offers NRNB!)
1 point win Al Ferof (16/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)
1/2 point each way Somersby (20/1 Best Odds Guaranteed, non-runner no bet, SkyBet)
1/2 point each way Sizing Europe (25/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)

Betvictor.com

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Who will take on Sprinter Sacre?

sprintersacre3Who dares wins. The problem is, when it comes to Sprinter Sacre, few seem to dare. In some ways that isn’t too surprising. British Horseracing Authority classifications rate Sprinter Sacre on 188, 18 lbs ahead of the next best 2-mile chasers, Flemenstar and Sire de Grugy (169). Read more

BHA to look at fence bypass rules

The British Racing Authority has acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the application of the rules which direct horses round a hurdle or fence that needs to be bypassed. Read more

BHA says Champion Chase fence bypass handled correctly

Before the Festival started both the Cheltenham executive and the British Horseracing Authority expressed their hope that controversy about the use of the whip would not dominate the headlines. So far they it hasn’t. But I don’t suppose they thought for one moment that their joint handling of fence bypass procedures would be one of the main stories of day two. Read more

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Stats & Tips

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Trends and Tips

It's now just sixteen days until the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012, and Wednesday's highlight promises to be a cracker. The eagerly awaited rematch between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe, with Finian's Rainbow and a host of aspirants snapping at their hooves, looks a race to savour.

But who has what it takes, on past trends and/or current form, to be crowned the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 winner?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Trends

Let's first take a look at the recent trends for the Champion Chase, some of which are pretty strong.

Champion Chase Age Trends - although ostensibly a two mile speed test, this race actually rides more like a two and a half miler, due to the ubiquitous end to end gallop and the merciless uphill grind to the finish.

So it is that older horses have tended to hold sway in recent years. In fact, whilst the most precocious of them all - Master Minded - won his first Champion Chase as a five year old (and his second at six), the last few years have seen just one other horse younger than seven prevail.

Indeed, Voy Por Ustedes was the only other sub-seven year old to win since Inkslinger way back in 1973! That doesn't bode well for Kauto Stone, who bids to add to the recent record of ex-French young'uns.

Azertyuiop was seven when winning, in 2004. Before that, the last 7yo's to oblige were Klairon Davis (1996) and Viking Flagship (1994).

The only entered horse of that age is Peddlers Cross who is far more likely to run in the Arkle.

Horses aged eight or nine have won seven of the last fourteen, and 16 of the last 16. This is the core age range to focus on.

On the other side of that, Martha's Son and One Man (1997/8), and Moscow Flyer (2005) were the only horses aged ten or older to have won since Badsworth Boy completed a hat-trick of Champion Chases in 1985 at the age of ten.

Big Zeb is eleven. Sizing Europe is ten.

Champion Chase last time out trends - ten of the last fourteen winners won their previous start. Of the other four, two fell or unseated, and two finished third.

Ten of the last twelve winners had won their last completed start. Sizing Europe last year was a notable exception to this rule.

Arkle runners in the Champion Chase trends - the previous year's Arkle has proved an extremely strong pointer for the Champion Chase, with Sizing Europe (2010 Arkle winner, 2011 Champion Chase winner) being the most recent to follow up a win or place in the Arkle with a win or place in the Champion Chase itself.

Previously, Forpadydeplasterer and Kalahari King (2010); Fair Along (2008); and Voy Por Ustedes (2007) all making the frame in the Champion Chase after doing likewise in the previous year's Arkle.

The 1-2-3 from the 2011 Arkle were Captain Chris, Finian's Rainbow, and Realt Dubh.

Captain Chris is not entered this year, and Realt Dubh hasn't been seen since finishing second in a Grade 1 on the 5th May last year.

Finian's Rainbow then is the most likely candidate from last year's Arkle alumni to make the frame here.

Champion Chase course and distance trends - All of the last thirteen winners had won a race over at least 2m1 1/2f (my thanks to Gavin Priestley's Festival Trends for this nugget).

I'msingingtheblues has never won beyond two miles one furlong, but would have had a limited chance in any case.

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Ten of the last thirteen Champion Chase winners had previously won at Cheltenham, eight of them at the Festival itself.

Of this year's entries, only Big Zeb, Gauvain, I'msingingtheblues, Peddlers Cross, Sizing Europe and Wishfull Thinking can boast a previous win at the track.

Peddlers is going for the Arkle, and Wishfull has a breathing problem (according to his trainer). Gauvain is much more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase, and I'msinging isn't going to be good enough.

That just leaves previous Champion Chase winners Big Zeb and Sizing Europe.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Form

The clear pick on form is Sizing Europe. He was the Champion Hurdle favourite in 2008, Arkle winner in 2010, and Champion Chase winner in 2011. He loves it here.

Moreover, Sizing Europe is seemingly in the best form of his life, with back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Grade 2 Tied Cottage (a TC double).

He has taken on, and beaten, many of his main rivals for Champion Chase 2012 glory, and is rated 177, ten pounds superior to anything else in the race.

Big Zeb has the next best official rating, coming in at 167 according to the Irish handicapper, which makes him better than any of the British challengers.

Somersby heads the home charge off a mark of 166, followed in by Gauvain, Kauto Stone and Wishfull Thinking (all on 162). Somersby's win in the Victor Chandler Chase last time out was a first Grade 1, and an affirmation of the faith many had retained in the beast.

Clearly talented, Somersby doesn't always put it all in. Saying that, a stiff two miles is probably ideal, and he has plenty of Festival placed form (3rd in Supreme, 2nd in Arkle, 5th in Champion Chase last year).

Very few of these are in winning form recently, with the exception of Zeb, Sizing and Somersby. But one who might surprise is Blazing Tempo.

This mare is incredibly versatile, having won a Grade 3 on heavy ground and the Galway Plate on good ground.  And she won another Grade 3 over two miles, whilst the Galway Plate was 2m6f! She's won in three small fields, and took the Galway Plate from 21 rivals.

For one so flexible, it's no surprise that she holds a number of entries, but this looks a much shallower race than the Ryanair, and I believe she has place chances at a very decent price... if she runs.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Tips

OK, so that's the trends and a whistle stop tour of the form. But who do I think will win?

The clear pick on form and most of the trends is Sizing Europe. He is in great form, has NEVER been out of the frame in fifteen chase starts, and is a deserving favourite for this race.

The problem is that I cannot back the horse at a best priced 11/10.

Looking for value elsewhere leads us to the trio of Big Zeb, Somersby and Finian's Rainbow, who are the next in the betting. Despite twice beating Noble Prince, Big Zeb has regressive Racing Post Ratings. That's hardly surprising for an eleven year old, and I couldn't have him after he was trounced by Sizing the last day.

Somersby beat Finian's Rainbow last time out in the Victor Chandler, but the latter has more scope to improve - albeit that he'll have to in order to get by his last time out conqueror.

But Finian's Rainbow has been beaten both times he's been to Cheltenham, and it's hard to see him preventing that becoming three times in a fortnight's time.

Somersby - on his day - would be hard to keep out of the frame in my view. And, at 12/1, he might be worthy of each way support. But... he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, for which he's a shorter price.

Blazing Tempo is interesting at bigger prices, despite the same multiple entries conundrum. She's won her last three, and has been in the frame in eight of ten chasing starts. She also receives a 7lb mares' allowance, and 33/1 offers us something to hang on to despite the possibility that she may get outclassed here.

At the time of writing, only Ladbrokes and bet365 are non-runner no bet, which means if your horse doesn't run in the race you get your stakes back.

Due to the nature of the double entries on my fancied pair, and the fact that best prices are not available with the 'non-runner no bet' bookies, it's hard to recommend a wager right now.

STOP PRESS: Those clever souls at Corbett Sports have replied to my tweet all bookies, and gone non-runner no bet all races. Well done to them.

A bookie that listens?

Corbett Sports: A bookie that listens?

Champion Chase tips

Most likely Champion Chase 2012 winner - Sizing Europe - 11/10 general

Best Champion Chase 2012 each way play - Somersby (with a run) - 12/1 NRNB Corbett Sports

Best Champion Chase 2012 outsider - Blazing Tempo (with a run) - 28/1 NRNB Corbett Sports, 33/1 all in, run or not

 

Monday Mish Mash: Sizing Up Cheltenham Prospects

In today's Monday Mish Mash, we'll take a look back at the weekend racing, I'll offer an apology for a missing item, I'll offer another apology for an incorrect link, I'll reveal my 6000 moments of hell from this weekend, and I'll introduce you to two new buttons on the website.

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

First, let's take a look back at the weekend's racing highlights. The undoubted pick of the pile on this side of the pond was Sandown's Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase, in which Sizing Europe fair bounded away from his opposition to claim a decisive victory from the potentially high class Kauto Stone.

In terms of being a Champion Chase trial, it's hard to knock what Sizing did here. But one needs to be clear about the strength of the opposition. Coming into the race, Sizing Europe was rated 177, which was 13 pounds superior to his closest rival on official ratings, Wishfull Thinking (164).

That horse underperformed for whatever reason, but the runner up, Kauto Stone, probably ran close to his official mark of 162. The rest had no right to give Sizing Europe a race... and didn't!

In the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Sizing will be up against all or some of Big Zeb (official rating 176), Master Minded (178), Noble Prince (163), Golden Silver (165) and the rest.

He may still win, but it will be a far sterner test.

And then there is perhaps a bigger fly in the ointment. Trainer Henry de Bromhead seems hellbent on trying to make Sizing Europe into a Gold Cup horse. Whilst I accept his reasons for the two second place finishes in the Grade 1 at Down Royal these last two seasons (ridden to get the trip first time, and heavy ground second time), I still think he'd be short of the required stamina for three and a quarter miles round Cheltenham, even if it came up like a road (again).

The Ryanair might be a 'penalty kick' for Sizing Europe, but let's be clear: it doesn't have the cachet of either the Champion Chase or the Gold Cup, and connections are unlikely to go that route. He's 40/1 for the Gold Cup with Stan James, but I'm still not tempted.

Of those in behind, Gauvain fell when still in with a chance, and Kauto Stone probably improved on his last run. He might improve again, but at the moment he's no better than a Grade 3 / borderline Grade 2 horse in my opinion, and all the talk about him is based more on relatives and reputation than the reality in the form book.

In the Henry VIII Novices' Chase, Al Ferof did just enough to repel the game For Non Stop. This race has not been a great trial for the Arkle over the years, but Al Ferof certainly has 'back class' (won Supreme Novices, second in the Champion Bumper) at the Festival, so he's likely to be a better horse there.

For those looking to add strings to their Festival ante-post bow, 7/1 looks fair enough without standing out. Peddlers Cross remains the 4/1 favourite.

Elsewhere, impressive handicap hurdle winner Poungach now has a problem, as he's likely to be hiked up to around 145 for this romp. That will mean he'll lug topweight in most handicaps, and he might not yet be up to Graded class, though he certainly deserves the chance.

Of course, connections also have the option to put him before a fence and see how that pans out. Overall, he's a very nice prospect for his owners, and it will be interesting to see where he turns up next.

Cantlow was comfortably 'next best' and has been largely consistent without having the winning habit. He should continue to go close.

Up at Aintree, there was much to like about West End Rocker's romp in the Becher Chase with a view to the Grand National itself on the first Saturday in April.

Although less than half the field finished on the testing ground (God help us if that happens in April - they'll probably remove the fences and make it a four and a half mile bumper race!), the right horses were still there at the death.

Always Waining, a course specialist, was just run out of the frame, costing me and my associate, 'Scottish Paul' (former owner of OnlineBettingExposed.com and internet genius), two lines of the place part of the Scoop 6. In fairness, it wouldn't have returned much more than we invested, but still.

More pertinently, the runner-up, Niche Market, is an Irish National winner and mainstay of such races as these. West End Rocker may have been in receipt of nine pounds from that one, and may well be additionally burdened by the handicapper's discretion for this facile victory, but must still have a decent chance in the big April showpiece.

The one thing that worries me from a punting perspective is that he races some way off the pace generally, which is not a trait normally associated with National winners. That said, if it came up boggy, he'd love it. 20/1 generally is fair, again without being spectacular in my opinion. He'll surely be shorter on the day... if he gets there.

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At Fairyhouse on Sunday, there were three Grade 1 races, although none revealed a great deal more than was already known.

In the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle, Sous Les Cieux gave jolly-backers a palpitation or two, as he went from cruising to 'found nought' in a couple of strides. Sure, he got the job done, but I'd be very wary of backing him in a Championship race until he proves he's got guts to match his visible class. 8/1 for the Supreme wouldn't be for me. Not at all.

A far more likely type for the Festival is the brilliantly named Bog Warrior. True, his task in the Drinmore Novices Chase was made much easier by the bungle and subsequent burst blood vessel of First Lieutenant. But still, this was an impressive rout of some aspirant animals.

Tony Martin, whose handicap coups imply he knows a thing or two about the merit of his horses, suggested before Sunday's win that Bog Warrior was probably the best he's had. He's 10/1 in places for the RSA Chase, a race which is shaping up beautifully, and that looks decent enough to me.

Ladbrokes go just 6/1, which is always a tell tale sign that I look for. True, there are the likes of Grands Crus and Bobs Worth in there, but has either raced in a Grade 1 yet? No is your answer. The one with the proven class is Bog Warrior. I'm in for a few quid, win only, on Betfair (14.5/1 available if you're prompt).

In the main event of the afternoon, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, kudos to Irish Big Race Trends' Tony Mac for napping the winner, Voler La Vedette. She easily saw off the challenges of Mourad, The Real Article and Final Approach, all of whom look to have no chance of top honours in the two mile hurdling division.

For V la V, she's likely to head to the Mares Final at the Festival, where she'll probably having to eye up Quevega's cute little behind once more. Poor thing. It's a bit like being Fatima Whitbread and having to share the stage with... actually I've no clue what the buxom Aussie on I'm A Celebrity was called... but you get the idea.

Cloughmile 2/1, Smoking Aces 4/1, and Venture Capital 9/4, all won as favourites in the last three races to make it something of a Black Sunday for Irish bookies, with five jollies and two second best's landing the spoils for the punters throughout the afternoon. I imagine it was a fun night in the drinking holes of Fairyhouse last evening, and there may be slightly more absenteeism than normal in the workplaces of Fairyhouse this morning..!

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Now then, a couple of apologies are in order.

Firstly, please accept mine and Mal's apologies for the lack of a 'Well I Declare' article this week. Mal has succumbed to the dreaded 'man flu' and wasn't able to provide his usual excellent copy. I'm extremely hopeful that he'll be up to the job this Wednesday, so normal service should be resumed. Get well soon, Mal.

Secondly, I have to apologise for another bout of technical ineptitude over the weekend, when I emailed some subscribers who hadn't opened my Thursday missive. Unfortunately, being an idiot, I put some extra spaces in the link which meant it didn't work. Doh.

So, for those who clicked, got nothing, wondered what all the fuss was about, but got on with their Sunday, here's that link again... Partners in Profit.

Incidentally, a very nice win in a great race to watch yesterday for PiP followers (and me!) at 6/1.

For my part, I promise to try harder not to be such a klutz when it comes to the button pressing part of my job in future. 😉

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Santa Run

The London Santa Run 2011

So... what did you get up to at the weekend? Shopping? Racing? Football? Hanging out with the (grand)kids? Me, I donned a Santa suit and ran twice round Battersea Park.

Now I might like to play footy, and indeed if there's an inflated pigskin within five metres of me woe betide the fool who tries to prevent my access to it (midfield enforcer, I think they call it!). But this running mallarkey is clearly sadistic.

I have to say that I was a broken man by the finish, and my (rather pathetic) time of 37 minutes and a few seconds was no more than I deserved. After a short puke break, I had to endure the laughter of Mrs Matt, who is a personal trainer in Hackney, and who lobbed round in thirty minutes or so, and seriously contemplated doing another lap!

That's my head to the left of Carole (#768) in the photo. Click the image for an extreme close up (or at least a bigger image).

It's fair to say I won't be taking part next year...

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And finally, I think it's time we thrust our collective self into the social media mainstream. No, I don't know what that means either, but I believe it's something to do with clicking buttons and having accounts.

On that basis, then, if you have a Twitter account, click the 'retweet' button up to the left (hopefully). For those of you watching in black and white, it's the green one.

And if you've got fabulous facebook, click the old 'share' button to spread the word.

Gosh dang it, if you're on the newfangled Google +1, you can even 'plus one' the page. Most people haven't got this as it was by invitation. Bizarrely, I do have it! I think it's being rolled out more generally some time soon, but I've no idea what the point of it is. (If you know, leave a comment!)

If you believe that buttons should exist on shirts and cardigans, then I'm with you for the most part, but I'm trying to drag my Luddite self into the 21st 'social' century, albeit kicking and screaming. So do join me. It might even be fun!

Happy Monday to one and all.

Matt

p.s. Which was your pick of the weekend performances (excluding my Satan run of course..!)? And did anyone get up to anything more self-destructive than the parks run? Share your pain in the comments below. 🙂

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.

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.

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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

King George VI Chase Trends

King George VI Chase Trends

In my last post of the year, I'm going to take a look at the King George VI Chase trends.

Kauto Star gets the better of Denman

Kauto Star gets the better of Denman

I've also got some Christmas merriment, mainly courtesy of arguably the best English football manager in the country right now (clue: not Harry or Woy).

First up, and with my thanks to Racecaller on the Racing UK forum for saving me many hours of time, I've amalgamated his King George VI Chase trends with a couple of my own to outline a profile horse... Let's see what the history of the last ten King George's tells us.

STRONG KING GEORGE VI CHASE TRENDS

  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had already won a Grade 1 chase
  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had run between one and four times that season
  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had run within eight weeks of the race
  • Nine of the last ten King George VI Chase winners were aged between 6 and 9 years old
  • Nine of the last ten King George VI Chase winners won their last completed start.

OTHER KING GEORGE VI CHASE TRENDS

  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners were French or Irish bred (six French, four Irish)
  • The favourite has won seven of the last King George VI Chase's
  • Prior to Kauto Star's four year dominance, four of the six winners were trained overseas (three in Ireland and one in France)

Kauto Star and the King George VI Chase

Kauto Star is not just a two time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is also a four time winner of the King George VI Chase, a record matched only by the equally popular Desert Orchid in the late eighties. Clearly, as a result of that, the trends are somewhat skewed (especially bearing in mind that Kicking King won the previous two runnings of the race, meaning that two horses are responsible for the last six victories!)

Kauto Star first won this race as a six year old, and is now a ten year old. Desert Orchid won the race as a 7yo, and then aged 9, 10 and 11. More recently, Edredon Bleu rolled back the years to also prevail as an 11yo. Whilst the bulk of history shows that younger horses generally win, Kauto Star is not a horse to be confined to 'the bulk of history'.

Kauto Star is a French-bred, and his four wins are added to by those of the aforementioned veteran, Eddie Blue,  and also Francois Doumen's fifth winner in the race, First Gold, way back in 2000. The remaining four - as previously stated - were all bred in Ireland. The last British bred winner was ex-hunter chaser, Teeton Mill, in 1998.

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Let's apply those trends to this year's race.

Firstly, all entries have had one, two, or in Ollie Magern's case, three runs this season, so no fallers at the first. And all have run within the last 56 days (though Riverside Theatre would have been an unlucky disqualification having last raced 55 days ago).

But then, at the first open ditch (metaphorically speaking, of course), there's a pile up. A number of the field have yet to win a Grade 1 chase, which is something that the last eleven winners have achieved. (Again, it was Teeton Mill who previously won his first Grade 1 in the King George VI Chase).

Out go Burton Port, Madison du Berlais, Nacarat, Riverside Theatre, and The Nightingale, all of whom have won Grade 2 affairs, but none of whom have hit the bullseye at the Grade 1 oche (as it were).

Aside from Edredon Bleu, the last double digit-aged winner was Dessie in 1990. So, whilst we'll leave the redoubtable Kauto Star in, Ollie Magern at twelve gets the bus pass at this point. Quite simply, the first winner of this race, Southern Hero in 1937, was a twelve year old. He was also the last of that age or more to win.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, please let Ollie run in hunter chases. He'd probably bag a nice prize there, which he thoroughly deserves as he retains enthusiasm if not the toe he once had.

At the other end of the scale, Long Run continues to be overfaced so early in his career. It's hard to fathom, but he's still only a five year old! That's younger than any winner of this race ever, and is enough for a big red line through his name on my racecard.

Only one winner of the King George had failed to win last time out when completing, since Algan in 1994. This is a big negative for Albertas Run, Noland, Forpadydeplasterer, Planet Of Sound, Sizing Europe, What A Friend, Burton Port and Long Run.

In fact, it would have been easier for me to say it's a big plus for Kauto Star, The Nightingale and Riverside Theatre. Alas for the latter two, they've already been struck through elsewhere, which leaves us with the shortest of shortlists: Kauto Star.

Now I know that's not a very original choice! 😉 That said, he's odds against, at 11/10, so there's a reasonable argument that he may represent value here. And he remains the likeliest winner. The question is, will Kauto Star regress quick enough for another horse here to progress past him?

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And the somewhat boring answer is 'probably not'. But, for sport - despite it potentially being an academic exercise - let's try to figure out the horse for the forecast... and who maybe can turn over the Star.

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Most of the other contenders, excepting dear old Ollie, fail only on one criterion. So why don't we reinstate them, and consider the secondary trends?

We're thus now looking for a French or Irish bred horse, who may well be trained overseas or by Paul Nicholls (successful twice with See More Business as well as four times with Kauto Star). This leaves two Irish-trained horses, both Grade 1 winners, and both second last time out, Forpadydeplasterer and Sizing Europe; and The Nightingale, bred in France and trained by the champ.

Forpady is a professional bridesmaid. Despite his trainer Thomas Cooper's protestations to the contrary, the fact remains that 'deplasterer has been second in eleven of his seventeen career starts! He's won five of the other six, and has never been worse than fourth. As such 11/1 looks strong value IF you believe he'll stay this far.

Again, his trainer sees no problems with the trip, but if you want a more reliable barometer of this requirement... like, oh, let's say, form in the book... it's instructive to note that Forpady's never won beyond 2m 2f, and he's had five goes at it. In fact, on one of the two occasions he went beyond 2m4f, in the 2008 Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, he ran his worst finishing position of fourth. In fairness, it certainly wouldn't have been his worst run ever, and he wasn't beaten far.

Ultimately, I want to see him prove he can stay before backing him. That said, he'll likely travel very well for a long way and see off much of the competition in doing so.

The other chap from over the sea is last year's Arkle winner, Sizing Europe. He's got plenty of top drawer Grade 1 form, including two chase wins in the class. But, he also has stamina to prove. Unlike 'pady, Sizing Europe has at least run twice over the longer trip of three miles (or as near as damn it). And he's found one too good both times.

It's arguable that he needed the run first time out when second to a race fit China Rock. It is further arguable that he stayed on well enough when beating China Rock but yielding to Kauto Star last time. Both are reasonable arguments. Neither give him a chance to beat Kauto Star here.

The Nightingale has not won beyond Grade 2 company, nor beyond 2m5f, but that 2m5f win was at Kempton in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices' Chase. He's clearly on the upgrade, and is one of the more progressive looking types in the contest. Whilst his bare form isn't as solid as a number of the field, 40/1 reflects that and yet still offers a smidgen of value.

But, as forecast wagers, I'd be happy to play the Irish pair behind the main man. And I'd probably add Sizing Europe in for a place wager too. The best outsider looks to be The Nightingale, who might run a nice race at a nice price.

Let's hope that the race is as great as the favourite has been, and that they all come home safe, especially Ollie.

Most likely winner: Kauto Star

Best place bet: Sizing Europe

Best Outsider: The Nightingale

Forecast plays: Kauto Star to beat Forpadydeplaster or Sizing Europe

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Now then, talking of Ollie, football fans will know that's the nickname of the brilliant Blackpool manager, Ian Holloway. And I do mean brilliant. His track record as a manager with no resources has few peers, and the performances of his Tangerines this season have been noteworthy for two facts: 1. they've not lost many, and 2. they've played some really good football.

Best of all though, Ollie is a West Country lunatic, and must be double-jointed, so often has he put his foot in his mouth. Here is just one classic excerpt:

Also on a football note, and a little, erm, fruitier - well it is Christmas - here are some managers being taken out of context for the merriment of viewers...

That's all from me here on Geegeez until the New Year. My salubrious travel agenda this Christmas takes in Barking, Knutsford, Liverpool (Airport) and Cork. And I'll be taking in far more food and drink than is good for me. But that's the drill isn't it? 😉

So, in the meantime, I want to sincerely thank you for taking time this year to pop by here and read my drivel, and to wish you and those dear to you the very best of the season.

Matt