Tuesday 26 May
Epsom's 'Breakfast with the Stars' proved informative this morning.
I am not a great judge of work, but to my eyes Elm Park looked the least well-suited to Epsom's gradients, which is a surprise given his relatively compact physique. The son of Phoenix Reach changed his legs on the descent down Tattenham Corner and also looked unbalanced in the straight. I thought Jack Hobbs acted well given his size - better than many would have expected - and John Gosden confirmed that the colt will run in the Derby provided the ground is not too quick. Frankie Dettori took the mount on Golden Horn, who looked very comfortable in his piece of work. Gosden commented afterwards on the colt's calm demeanour and temperament.
Coolmore representative Kevin Buckley said that Irish 1,000 Guineas runner-up Found was still in contention for the Derby but that Gleneagles was unlikely to run. Perhaps the most impressive work of the morning was done by Andre Fabre's Oaks contender Al Naamah, who quickened nicely to pull clear inside the final furlong. My concern with her is that her dam is by Green Desert, raising doubts about her staying the mile and a half.
I was very pleased to read today that Jack Naylor, who caught the eye with her strong finishing effort in the 1,000 Guineas, will be running in the Oaks. I have had her on my shortlist for the race since writing the Dark Horses in the winter. Sir Michael Stoute confirmed that Crystal Zvezda also runs, although Ryan Moore is likely to stay with 1,000 Guineas winner Legatissimo.
The Derby market remains a little wobbly, with Golden Horn now a top price of 7/4. Zawraq is 5/1, followed by Elm Park and Jack Hobbs at 7s. Epicuris is the best backed outsisder at 25/1 following his redirection from the French Derby.
I am still gathering together my thoughts on the Epsom Classics, but I am relieved that a couple of my long-priced outsiders for the Oaks should be lining up.
Bye for now.
Friday 22 May
Sometimes you see a maiden race that leaves you thinking it may be rather better than the norm, and for me this applied to the 1m 2f maiden run at Sandown on Thursday evening.
The race was won by the 95-rated Proposed, who had run better than his finishing position suggests in the Group 3 Chester Vase and run well in a valuable sales race at Newmarket in April. Richard Hannon had given the son of Invincible Spirit top-class entries, including the Derby. Runner-up was Star Storm, who had caught the eye on his only previous start at Nottingham and is well-regarded by James Fanshawe. The colt which most interested me was Dark Deed, a son of Dansili trained by Sir Michael Stoute. He ran well when third on his debut at Kempton in November and then again when second to Storm The Stars at Leicester in April. He was well supported to win here, but was left a fair way out of his ground by Ryan Moore and despite staying on well never looked like getting to the enterprisingly-ridden winner. There were other promising horses further behind in a race that could pay to follow.
Dark Deed will probably be rated on a mark in the high 80s or around 90 for this and he will be very interesting in a handicap, perhaps over a mile and a half, next time out. He could even be one to keep in mind for a top handicap at Royal Ascot, although he will need to get himself on a slightly higher mark to qualify. In time I expect Dark Deed to earn black type.
Looking ahead 16 colts were left in the Derby at the latest forfeit stage including 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles. Aidan O'Brien has also left in Hans Holbein, Kilimanjaro and Giovanni Canaletto but he has scratched Highland Reel, Sir Isaac Newton and Aloft. To my surprise John Gosden has taken Chistophermarlowe out of the race. Frankie Dettori looks like getting the mount on the supplemented favourite Golden Horn.
Paddy Power make Freddy Head's Solow 8/11 to beat Cirrus Des Aigles in the Prix D'Ispahan at Longchamp on Sunday, while the long-absent Eagle Top's name appears in the entries for the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown on Thursday.
Have a great weekend and bye for now
Thursday 14 May
The Derby picture didn't really get any clearer today when Golden Horn, who does not currently hold an entry for Epsom, beat stable-companion Jack Hobbs and Elm Park emphatically in the Dante Stakes.
The winner's owner Anthony Oppenheimer has always insisted that the colt's optimum trip would be a mile and a quarter, but William Buick said today that the winner was "strong" passing the line. It will cost £75,000 to supplement the colt for the Derby, and John Gosden says the decision will be down to the owner. Gosden said of the runner-up that he would be considering the King Edward VII Stakes, but given that his wife is a part-owner of the colt I think it would be very hard for them not to go to Epsom. Jack Hobbs was staying on well at the finish and as a son of Halling out of a daughter of Swain, and given his physical scope, he is entitled to improve for the step up in trip. Mind you it's possible that someone may step in to buy him. There were apparently calls to the trainer after his imperious display at Sandown, and there is a case for suggesting he would be the most attractive long-term prospect from the Dante field.
Elm Park ran a respectable race in third and his trainer Andrew Balding expects him to improve for the run. I am probably alone in harbouring a slight doubt about him staying a mile and a half.
Aidan O'Brien admitted in the aftermath of the poor runs of John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River that a few of his horses have been under the weather - something I suggested here a while back. I expect him to follow his usual practice and go in mob-handed on the day, with the likes of Hans Holbein, Kilimanjaro and possibly Giovanni Canaletto, who is rumoured to be the pick of his middle-distance prospects.
The most interesting horse in the field is Zawraq. Dermot Weld has still not said whether the colt will run in the Irish 2,000 Guineas or the Derby - or possibly in both. It must now be tempting to go to Epsom, although the trainer has expressed uncertainty over the colt's stamina.
We are faced with an absorbing situation and the next few days will be very interesting.
Bye for now
Sunday 10 May
The topsy-turvy Derby market took another hit this afternoon when Highland Reel ran a fairly lifeless race in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Longchamp. Aidan O'Brien's colt was a leading fancy of mine for both the English Guineas and the Derby, but after racing keenly for a couple of furlongs he could not improve his position behind the impressive winner Make Believe.
It looks as if Thursday's Dante Stakes at York will, once again, prove the strongest guide to Epsom. Aidan O'Brien has seven of the 15 entries for the Dante as I write, but they include Highland Reel. The buzz horse is Giovanni Canaletto, but he missed Lingfield on Saturday due to a temperature. My understanding is that he figures at the top, if not very near the top, of the Derby shortlist. John F Kennedy did not handle the soft ground on his return and with the going at York currently good to soft it will need to dry out for him to run. It was interesting to hear O'Brien put Ol' Man River forward for this race following his poor effort in the Guineas, especially as I have him down as a doubtful stayer.
The market is currently headed by Jack Hobbs, a giant of a horse who was raised 24lb after making a nonsense of his 85-rating in a handicap at Sandown. He may be joined by stable-companion Golden Horn, who would need to be supplemented for the Derby, with Elm Park setting the standard.
If forced to nominate a selection for the Derby at this stage I would probably find myself siding with Elm Park, who bypassed the Guineas due to the fast ground. He does not do anything very spectacularly, but he's very tough and given the uncertainty over his rivals he looks cast-iron for the frame. A victory in the Dante Stakes would see him shoot to the head of the market.
Bye for now
Tuesday 5 May
I have just returned from an informative but frustrating weekend at Newmarket. The feature of the meeting was the ground, which was as quick as I have known it.
Starting with the 2,000 Guineas, Gleneagles was becoming increasingly restless in the pre-paddock and had broken into quite a sweat by the time the horses were at the start. He was, though, a conclusive winner and the best colt in the race. Territories impressed me in the paddock and ran on well from off the pace. I liked his demeanour. Ivawood has scope, as indeed he did last year, and I was surprised he kept on so well. I thought beforehand that Bossy Guest would run well and he might have finished a length closer but for being switched just over a furlong out. Dutch Connection was travelling well on the rails but possibly didn’t stay the mile. Estidhkaar looked in good fettle but my selection Intilaaq was colty for a few minutes in the pre-paddock and looked dull in his coat. He needs more time. Ol’ Man River looked delicate and ran poorly, perhaps not handling the ground.
Looking ahead it’s interesting that Aidan O’Brien has mentioned the Dante Stakes for Ol’ Man River. Things look very undecided for the Ballydoyle horses at the moment. I don’t expect any of the other 2,000 Guineas runners to be aimed at the Derby.
I was not overly impressed with the fillies in the 1,000 Guineas.
Jellicle Ball had the most scope but she ran poorly, possibly due to being in season according to a statement from John Gosden this morning. She apparently didn’t care for the fast ground either. The winner Legatissimo is a medium-sized filly who is bred to thrive over middle distances. She is a half-sister to out-and-out stayer Another Cocktail out of a full sister to Ascot Gold Cup winner Fame And Glory. I would be surprised if she did not take her chance at Epsom. Lucida did well to go so close given she swerved sharply right leaving the stalls. She then had to switch right at halfway but looked the winner when she went into the lead. In the end she was outstayed by the winner. Malabar ran well without showing the same turn of foot that she had at two. She is bred for further and may need more time as she had not come in her coat.
Both Legatissimo and Malabar have sound credentials for Epsom.
Friday 1 May
I am leaving for Newmarket on Saturday morning to see the first two Classics of the season. I have just finished writing my Online Preview - well over 3,000 words - featuring an in-depth analysis of the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas and also highlighting the chances of a few horses in the support races.
I have revised the format of the Preview this season. Rather than analyse every race at the meeting, I have written about horses that interest me - either for their particular race or for the future. I feel this is much better than trying to work through races in which I have no strong view.
Following the success of the last two years, my previews of the two Guineas in this year's Dark Horses have proved well wide of the mark. There is still time to redress the balance, but I have never known a spring when so many leading prospects have - for one reason or another - fallen by the wayside.
I have updated my line already with my thoughts for tomorrow, and this will be updated again on Sunday morning with news for 1,000 Guineas day (0906 150 1555).
Looking at today, I thought that Threave ran a promising sort of race at Chepstow. You would not be expecting me to bring a horse of this type to your attention on a day when there is so much classy action at Punchestown, but to my eyes the mare was being ridden with an eye to the future.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Sunday 26 April
Saturday was all about AP McCoy, who was given a send-off the like of which I have never before witnessed on a British racetrack.
AP has implied on a number of occasions, since announcing his impending retirement at Newbury, that he doesn't really know what all the fuss is about, but I cannot think of any other sport where a champion has reigned over 20 consecutive years. In my view he is odds-on to receive a knighthood in the New Year's Honours as his accomplishments surpass anything that anybody has achieved in the sport before, either on the Flat or over jumps. Also there has never been whiff of scandal or suggestion of malpractice in his career, so I would not discourage anyone from going for a long-term return at the 6/4 (from 2/1 earlier in the week) that Ladbrokes offer about him being nominated for a knighthood on or before the 2016 New Year's honours.
For me the most interesting aspect of McCoy's retirement is the question of his future. I don't see him as a front-man for his former employer JP McManus, but at the same time I would be very surprised if he did not maintain their links in some shape or form. The role to which he would seem most well-suited could be as a scout, seeking out and trying out potential acquisitions for his boss. AP will want to be involved riding horses in some capacity or other, and this would enable him to exercise his horsemanship without the risks or tiring lifestyle associated with race-riding.
The next few weeks will not be easy for McCoy. He is a driven man, and the sooner he finds something through which to direct his energy the better. Perhaps, like rock star Alice Cooper, he may switch his focus to the golf course, but that would soon frustrate him if he failed to attain what he deemed to be a high level of achievement. It will be fascinating to see what comes along.
At Gowran Park today we saw a decent performance from Legatissimo in the extended nine furlong Listed race. The daughter of Danehill Dancer had run the useful Jack Naylor to three-quarters of a length at the Curragh in August and found the soft ground against her on her return at Leopardstown. Today's good to firm going suited her much better as did the step back up in trip. She is the sort of filly that could run into the frame in a Group 1 or 2 over a mile and a quarter or more.
Bye for now
Sunday 19 April
Such has been the limited impact of last week's Classic trials that the current market leaders are there by default.
Gleneagles is now a top price of 2/1 for the 2,000 Guineas - as low as 6/4 with Victor Chandler - despite having not run this season. Next at 9/1 is his stable-companion Highland Reel, with Greenham Stakes runner-up Estidhkaar at 12/1. Elm Park, who did not look like a Guineas winner in his public workout at Newbury, is next with Zawraq, an unlikely runner at Newmarket, at 12/1. Ivawood has four and a half lengths to find with Estidhkaar and is not bred to be suited to the step up to a mile, while Greenham winner Muhaarar is thought more likely to run in France.
The 1,000 Guineas is not much clearer. Found is shortest at 2/1 with Ladbrokes, which may be significant, with stable-companion Together Forever at 10/1. The market strength behind Jim Bolger's Lucida is interesting while Jellicle Ball should reverse Fred Darling form with Redstart stepped up to a mile. It was interesting to hear John Gosden say after yesterday's race that the filly would head to Newmarket and then be trained for Royal Ascot with, I suspect, the Ribblesdale the likely target. Malabar, who was unlucky behind Found in France last season, is probably the best value outsider at 20/1.
As for the Derby, if Highland Reel runs well at Newmarket he would have a leading chance.
I am not convinced that Ol' Man River is bred for the trip but Dermot Weld's Zawraq will be popular. Elm Park also looks desperate for middle distances while Giovanni Canaletto and Sir Isaac Newton need monitoring. Regarding the Oaks it wouldn't surprise me to see something come from left-field - Saturday's Navan maiden winner Fluff falls into that category. Words has been my long-term fancy for the race, but Aidan O'Brien has not had much to say about his fillies this spring. Jellicle Ball is bred for the trip on her dam's side, but John Gosden suggested Royal Ascot rather than Epsom for the daughter of Invincible Spirit. Malabar is bred to stay, so a good run at Newmarket could see her bang in contention.
Bye for now
Thursday 16 April
I cannot recall a season when the Classic hopefuls have made such a shaky start. John F Kennedy, long-time winter favourite for the Derby, was a very disappointing last of three on Sunday and Faydhan failed to shine in the Free Handicap. News came through today that Andre Fabre's High Celebrity will miss the 1,000 Guineas, while we already know that Sir Michael Stoute's Convey and Consort will not be ready in time for the 2,000 Guineas.
The horses that now head the market for the Classics are almost there by default, with Aidan O'Brien's team making their traditionally slow start to the season. I gather John Gosden reckons his team are a couple of weeks behind schedule, while Sir Michael Stoute's representatives to date are all being ridden as if they need the race.
The Newmarket Classics take place a fortnight this weekend and we have a couple more trials at Newbury this weekend, but the Classic scene looks very open and I would not be betting on anything for the moment.
Returning to the jumping action I was quietly impressed with Tom Neary at Exeter on Tuesday. Robert Walford's eight-year-old showed nothing in three point-to-points and little more in two hurdles, but he is a different horse over fences and I loved the way he jumped and put his head down in this 0-120. I gather he will be back at Exeter on Tuesday and he could run up a sequence this summer. There is better to come from him.
Bye for now
Sunday 12 April
There was no stopping Dermot Weld at Gowran Park on Saturday, when he had four winners, and he repeated the job again at Leopardstown today when he sent out another four winners including the winners of the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas Trials.
The biggest shock of the day came when long-time Derby favourite John F Kennedy finished last of three in the Ballysax Stakes. Priced up at a ridiculously short 1/10 earlier in the week, the 1/4 chance never really looked all that happy as the 10/1 outsider Success Days made all the running to beat Zafilani by four and a half lengths. Taking official ratings the favourite ran to a mark about two stone below his mark of 114. Aidan O'Brien is sending out a lot of losers at the moment, but over the years his string seems to take longer to come to hand and I would not expect the team at Ballydoyle to be overly concerned just yet. Ryan Moore would not have made a commitment to ride for them unless he was pretty sure there would be some big pay-days and by midsummer there will be winners flowing all over the place.
I spent three days at Aintree last week. It was not a very successful meeting on the betting front, but I was very pleased to see Oliver Sherwood land the big one with Many Clouds.
I had taken the view before the race that Sherwood was running the horse against his better judgement and, quite possibly, in response to a request from owner Trevor Hemmings. Hemmings loves to have representatives at the meeting, and of course he had won the National twice before. As things turned out Many Clouds took to Aintree from an early stage, receiving a confident and bold inside-track ride from Leighton Aspell. I have to say that much as I like the horse I did not expect him to return from Cheltenham on good enough terms to carry 11st 9lb in such a marathon test. He has never lacked courage, but this was an awesome display and it was no surprise he was shattered on pulling up. Of the others I thought Royale Knight ran well in sixth, though not staying on as well as I had expected.
Things move along at a pace this week, with the Craven meeting at Newmarket and then two very informative days at Newbury.
Bye for now
Sunday 5 April
I decided at late notice to pay a visit to Carlisle on Saturday. The warm weather gave rise to a large turnout, mostly made up of families, and the racing was competitive but of a poor standard.
I liked the way Shades Of Midnight got down to business to win the extended 2m 3f novices' hurdle. He showed a good attitude from the last and should make a fair performer over fences next season.
I have nailed my colours to the mast with Bitofapuzzle already this season, in the belief that she has the potential to develop into a Gold Cup contender one day. My concern at Fairyhouse today was that she had a hard race at Cheltenham, after quite a busy season, but Noel Fehily did the right thing in making use of her stamina and she won this by staying better than her rivals. She will be even better over three miles and retires for her summer break one of the most promising mares we have seen for a very long time.
Racegoers were treated to a vintage exhibition an hour later from Tony McCoy, who was seen at his power-packed best in the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase. Coming to the last it looked as if Smashing was getting the better of the favourite Gitane Du Berlais, but McCoy somehow managed to get Gilgambo to dig deep and find enough to hold the late thrust of The Tullow Tank, who came from nowhere to finish second.
I am currently working on Aintree, with the first of my three Online Previews available to view on Wednesday evening. News is coming through for the meeting, including information for a horse that bypassed Cheltenham with this week in mind.
Bye for now
Sunday 29 March
Aidan O'Brien gave just over 60 of his horses - including his leading Classic contenders - a day out after racing at the Curragh this afternoon. Anyone there would have had a chance to see the horses at close quarters, but nothing would have been gleaned from the work itself, which was done at little more than half-speed.
Gleneagles and Highland Reel, the yard's two leading Guineas candidates, finished in arrears in their group while John F Kennedy and Giovanni Canaletto appeared in the second batch. The third group included leading 1,000 Guineas fancy Found, who impressed so much with her attitude when winning at Longchamp. This jaunt out has become something of a ritual for Aidan O'Brien and it probably benefits the horses more mentally than physically.
Dermot Weld made a good start to the Turf season with wins for Stormfly in the Madrid Handicap and then Ashraf in the closing maiden. The latter is by Cape Cross out of a mare by Sadler's Wells, so he was bred to appreciate the easy ground.
I approved the Dark Horses Annual layout this weekend. I hope that Raceform turn it over fairly quickly so it is out in time for the Craven meeting. This week I will be limbering up for the Aintree Grand National meeting, which starts a week on Thursday.
I am writing a three-part Online Preview for Aintree, available to view the night before each day's racing.
Bye for now
Friday 20 March
I am filing my Dark Horses copy to Raceform this weekend despite not having had sight of the entries for the Oaks. Last year I found Taghrooda, who was 33/1 at the time, but it won't be as easy this time without the entries. I can see a few of the likely names from the entries for the Irish Oaks and the ante-post betting, but it's not ideal by any means.
I see there has been steady money in the last few days for Gleneagles in the 2,000 Guineas. He was always the obvious Ballydoyle candidate for the race and we can assume that he has shown he's in good heart given the support. There are, though, a few others to consider including Highland Reel, Ol' Man River and John F Kennedy. I would not be charging in just yet.
There are two really interesting once-raced colts that could attract interest - Convey and Flaming Spear, available at 25/1 and 20/1 respectively.
I expect the Dark Horses Annual to be out in two to three weeks - a little later than ideal, but in time for the important Craven Meeting at Newmarket.
Have a great weekend!
Monday 16 March
I have needed a few days to reflect on last week's events at Cheltenham.
Traditionally horses do not manage to make all the running at this meeting, especially in the championship races, yet last week we saw seven races - including the Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle, Ryanair and Gold Cup - won by horses that led from start to finish.
I would never have believed this possible and, despite pondering the matter over and over again, I still have no idea why this happened. Coneygree, Vautour, Uxizandre, Cole Harden, Windsor Park, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen all ran from pillar to post, finding more than enough to hold off challengers from the last. Even horses ridden prominently that did not lead did well - notably Next Sensation - despite the evidence over decades of Festival racing that a horse cannot win at that level from the front.
Of last week's winners none made a bigger impression than Vautour. I had been hugely impressed by the way he jumped on his chasing debut at Navan in November and from the handful of Gold Cup contenders Willie Mullins has to draw from, Vautour is the one which most excites me.
From a personal viewpoint I was disappointed that a couple more of my long-priced selections didn't win. By the end of the week I was into double figures for placed horses - my best included Eastlake 14/1, Djakadam 10/1, Buddy Bolero 20/1, Unique De Cotte 14/1, God's Own 33/1, Arctic Fire 20/1, Bitofapuzzle 16/1, Horizontal Speed 12/1, Activial 17/2 and Special Tiara 18/1. Windsor Park, Cole Harden, Vautour and Peace And Co won, but any of the placed horses would have made for a great week.
Bye for now
Tuesday 10 March
It proved a challenging first day of Cheltenham given that I set out my stall in opposing the favourites, but Gods Own and Arctic Fire ran well at long odds to reach the frame.
Douvan won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in a time almost 3.5 seconds faster than Faugheen took in the Champion Hurdle, possibly leaving the Mullins team with an interesting dilemma when it comes to deciding on their main contender for next year's Champion Hurdle.
I thought Ruby Walsh was superb on Faugheen, who inevitably made the running once it was clear that nothing else was prepared to go on. He had been even better on Un De Sceaux, settling the hard-pulling favourite in front and finding more after the last to win going away.
There were, though, plenty of disappointments today. The New One, Jezki and earlier L'Ami Serge ran below expectations, especially the last named. L'Ami Serge missed the break but was never travelling at any stage, although he was hampered by a faller down the far side.
Bye for now
Monday 9 March
I have just completed my Online Supplement for day one of Cheltenham and my early preview line is also now available as well (5.30 pm).
Looking forward to the Champion Hurdle, this is a race that could be won or lost on tactics. Now that Dan Skelton has said he does not expect his 200/1 outsider Bertimont to make the running we could end up with something of a farce. Faugheen has successfully made all on three occasions, notably when winning over 2m 3f at Ascot, but in the light of the favourite's occasional sketchy jumping that would not be ideal.
Jezki, a Grade 1 winner over 2m 4f, could prove effective from the front but this is probably not something connections have considered.
It will be fascinating to see how Un De Sceaux tackles the first three fences in the Arkle Trophy. This will be his first experience of an undulating track. Mind you, the last three could also be a challenge if he starts to tire. I reckon at the price there will be more layers than players.
Give me a ring now to hear my early thoughts or tomorrow at 11.00 when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message (0906 150 1555).
Bye for now.
Friday 6 March
As expected it was confirmed today that Don Poli runs in the RSA Chase rather than the longer 4m National Hunt Chase. He will be joined by Very Wood, who is also owned by Gigginstown. Valseur Lido, who runs in the same colours, now goes for the JLT Novices' Chase rather than the RSA, leaving Wounded Warrior and Thunder And Roses to run in the National Hunt Chase.
All the smart money in the Gold Cup today was for Djakadam, who apparently did a sparkling piece of work with Vautour over the weekend. For me he's a doubtful stayer.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse has started watering the track. He internds to put down 3/4mm of water between now and Sunday.
Bye for now
Thursday 5 March
The big mover for the first day has been Pendra in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase. As I said earlier in the week he has been kept fresh for the race and has had a wind operation since his last run. He is now as short as 8/1 having been twice that price a few days ago.
Bye for now
Tuesday 3 March
There was talk last night at Haydock's North West Racing Club Preview evening that Annie Power could switch from the Mares' Hurdle to the World Hurdle. Willie Mullins apparently takes the view that he could win the Mares' Hurdle with current second-favourite Glens Melody, but odds of 23 would not be available for Annie Power on Betfair for the World Hurdle if that were thought to be the case.
The concern is that after so long off the track she could be keen, and that would work against her over the three miles at Cheltenham.
Other news and Cue Card misses the Ryanair Chase after making a noise in his work at home. I believe I am right in saying he had a wind operation last summer, so this is nothing new. Colin Tizzard will be giving him another one in the hope he can get the horse back in time for Aintree.
Gary Moore revealed that Sire De Grugy will be equipped with white shoes for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Apparently he wore them at Chepstow after developing a corn, which has mostly since been cut away.
The Bulletin Book will be available for full Cheltenham Package subscribers to read online this evening. I went to the printer this morning to see the first pages come off the press. It's all looking good.
Bye for now
Monday 2 March
It was a good feeling in the early hours of this morning to see the Bulletin Book laid out and ready for printing. We have a couple of images in the book this year, with an attractive design and full index.
I know that I probably always say this, but I really do feel hopeful about this season's Festival. In the past I have tried to find the winners of some of the week's most difficult races - notably the handicaps - whereas this time I have set myself a less ambitious target.
The Bulletin Book will be available for full Cheltenham package clients to view on Tuesday evening. The copies should be back with us on Wednesday for despatch.
Regarding the latest news for Cheltenham there was sustained support this morning for Sprinter Sacre. I expect he did a useful piece of work over the weekend, although personally I am not sure his fragile constitution will hold out up the hill.
I am leaving shortly to sit on the panel of the North West Racing Club preview evening at Haydock. Then I have another one at my local course at Cartmel on Thursday.
Bye for now.
Sunday 1 March
I have just submitted the Bulletin Book for layout work today and printing tomorrow. It is around 28,000 words and a little more specific regarding selections than in the past. Although I have previewed every race, I have not nominated a selection unless I fell quite strongly about it.
I see that Barry Geraghty has said he will ride The Young Master in the RSA Chase for Neil Mulholland. This progressive horse's way of racing will be well suited to the RSA, which always puts a premium on those two essential attributes for this meeting - stamina and tenacity.
Willie Mullins worked a few of his horses at Leopardstown on Saturday. Vautour, who will be one of my leading fancies for the week in the JLT, went particuarly well. I still regret that he is not running in the Arkle as I think he would win that.
I will be back on Monday with a few more thoughts. The Bulletin Book will be available to view online on Tuesday evening and back in the office for despatch on Wednesday.
Bye for now
Thursday 26 February
I suspect that Noel Fehily is far from certain that he has ended up on the right horse in the World Hurdle after it was announced today he would be riding Zarkandar in the World Hurdle rather than Rock On Ruby, a horse he says he "absolutely loves."
Fehily has a commitment to Zarkandar's owners, for whom he rides Silviniaco Conti, and Sam Twiston-Davies apparently chose to ride Saphir Du Rheu, leaving Noel to step in on Zarkandar. Fehily has ridden Rock On Ruby in each of his last 14 races, including the 2012 Champion Hurdle and then when second to Hurricane Fly a year later.
From a personal perspective I now feel that I am in the right place for Cheltenham. The meeting had a murky look to it a few days ago but I now have three or four horses that I feel strongly about - all at double-figure prices. I finish the Bulletin Book on Saturday evening.
Bye for now
Sunday 22 February
Whenever conditions are virtually unraceable, as they were at Fontwell this afternoon, I like to try and find short-priced horses to oppose. As you may be aware I am no fan of laying, but today was one of those days when I thought there were three vulnerable favourites and they each got beaten. Furthermore they were beaten by horses with proven stamina and form in the mud, so for me the results were not nearly as much of a surprise as the betting suggested.
I am now up to 8,500 words on the Bulletin Book. Cheltenham is becoming a little clearer to me, although it would be even better if we knew the targets for Willie Mullins' novice hurdlers. He has multiple entries for the Supreme, Neptune and Albert Bartlett, but he won't be making his final decisions until declaration time.
I think I know what my *** bet will be, while I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the handicaps. Over the years these have served me quite well and I already have one horse from Ireland which I gather has been primed for the meeting.
My Bulletin Book is out on Wednesday week, and available to read for Package subscribers a week on Tuesday. As always it will be packed with my thoughts and news for every race, together with Star Bets.
Bye for now
Sunday 15 February
I have been busy this last few days writing the Dark Horses Annual. The Derby and 2,000 Guineas are done, and today I have been working on the 1,000 Guineas.
I will assess the Oaks tomorrow and then put the Dark Horses to bed until the first forfeit stage of the Classics at the start of March. The book will then be despatched to the Racing Post. I prefer not to submit my copy until I have had sight of the forfeit entries because, as you may be aware, the Derby entries we have at the moment are pretty meaningles as they were made at the yearling stage.
I enjoyed an afternoon at Haydock on Saturday. I thought At Fishers Cross would return to form, but despite the trainer tweaking with his knees the horse is clearly still out of sorts. One has to wonder if those hard races he had two years ago have taken their toll on him.
Unique De Cotte will probably rise about 10lb, from 125 to 135, following his victory at Ascot on Saturday. There will be a buzz about him if he runs at Cheltenham but, for me, he needs to jump far better to hold his own at that level.
Colin Tizzard has a very useful long-term prospect on his hands with Thistlecrack. The seven-year-old is by Kayf Tara out of a mare by Ardross, so he did extremely well to win over this two miles. He could be more than decent when stepped up to three miles over fences.
Bye for now
Sunday 8 February
It promised to be an informative weekend, but for once the horses took second place to the announcement made by Tony McCoy on Saturday that he was to retire at the end of the season.
I did hear from a well-placed source a few weeks ago that during his time off he had become more aware of the risks of his sport and that he wanted to try and ensure he retired in one piece for his family. My understanding is that he has recently grown very close to his children and that it was a matter of waiting for the right moment to make his announcement. That moment presented itself yesterday, when he rode his 200th winner in the colours of his patron JP McManus. With perfect timing he followed that up at Leopardstown today with a double on Sort It Out and then a typically determined effort to win the Hennessy Gold Cup on Carlingford Lough.
If asked to name AP McCoy's greatest quality it would be his commitment to the sport. There have been many occasions when he has travelled the length of the country to take an outside ride and even this week he will be racing in Yorkshire and Scotland. His agent Dave Roberts has played a key part in his success, trying always to get him on the best mounts.
In fairness McCoy was never a great stylist in the saddle, but nobody has been as effective on an old-fashioned plodder at a wet midweek meeting in the depths of winter. It really won't be the same without him, but at least Richard Johnson now has his chance for the title.
As for today, Carlingford Lough would be the sort of horse to run well in an open Gold Cup. He had some good horses behind him and is only now starting to peak. Earlier Nichols Canyon stayed on well to win the Deloitte Novice Hurdle. Looking back to Saturday Coneygree did enough to merit a crack at the Gold Cup, although soft ground would be very important for him.
Bye for now
Tuesday 4 February
I am a few thousand words into the Dark Horses Annual, picking my Premier List horses and a few for the Dark Horses section. I have not started the Classic essays yet but plan to do so over the weekend.
I have to say there is a great deal of uncertainty over the 2,000 Guineas, with Aidan O'Brien having charge of four of the first six in the betting and no news over the wellbeing of the once-raced Faydhan. I gather Flaming Spear, who sustained an injury after winning his maiden for Kevin Ryan in July, is now back in full health. He could prove one of the more attractive outsiders.
I will keep you updated with a few thoughts, together with news as it comes through for Cheltenham.
Bye for now
Sunday 1 February
The bookmakers are already running scared over the possible consequences of a Willie Mullins benefit on the first day of Cheltenham.
Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and possibly Annie Power could give him four short-priced winners, with many punters likely to put them into a multiple combination. History shows that something usually comes to the rescue of the bookmakers and, from a personal viewpoint, I am not sure that I will be keen to encourage support on any of them. Although each of the four horses will be going there, all being well, with sound credentials to their name the Cheltenham Festival is unique, especially regarding the demands it makes in relation to stamina and the track's undulations.
Owner Rich Ricci seems very excited about Douvan, who has certainly impressed in his two runs to date. He does, though, have the equally promising L'Ami Serge to beat in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle - a horse that has shown plenty of finishing kick at the end of his races. He looks an ideal sort for this race, which is usually run at a scorching pace. Un De Sceaux won't find this undulating track as easy to deal with as the ones he has raced on in Ireland while, for all his talent, not many horses win championship races at the Festival running as keenly as he does. Faugheen has far more to beat in the Champion Hurdle than his short-price would suggest while we are still not sure whether Annie Power will be back to full fitness.
I am starting work this week on the Cheltenham Bulletin Book and also the Flat edition of the Dark Horses Guide.
Bye for now
Sunday 25 January
The remarkable Hurricane Fly landed his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle today despite never travelling with his customary zest from an early stage. The 11-year-old usually moves smoothly through his races, but on this occasion Ruby Walsh was having to niggle him along after half a mile. At one stage he went out to around 7/1 in running, as market rival Jezki appeared to be powering along in the lead, but Hurricane Fly kept finding for his rider and probably had Jezki's measure when that horse blundered away his chance at the last. Walsh has to decide between Hurricane Fly and Faugheen for the Champion Hurdle. It won't be easy, but I can't see him getting off Faugheen.
Earlier Un De Sceaux confirmed his status as one of the most exciting novice chasers we've seen in a long time when beating Clarcam and Gilgamboa with ease. I was of the view beforehand that this was no walkover for the favourite, but once again he set a scorching pace and looked to have plenty more to give had it been required from the last. The seven-year-old is now a top price of evens for the Arkle Trophy.
Bye for now
Saturday 10 January
I wasn't surprised to see Josses Hill struggle to win his first novices' chase at Doncaster yesterday. I was a great fan of the seven-year-old last season, but his pedigree - his dam is by Glacial Storm - and style of racing suggested to me that he needs two and a half miles to be seen at his best. I am aware that he showed top-class novice hurdle form last season over two miles, but he looked here as if he required a stronger pace. His jumping was rather laboured on his debut at Ascot and so it was again here, raising doubts about his suitability for a race like the Arkle. Things may improve, of course, between now and March but at this stage I do not view him as a leading Arkle hope. The JLT over two and a half miles may be the better option.
Sgt Reckless won his first flat race in the opener at Lingfield on Friday. He had won a bumper here two years ago but yesterday's race was over a mile and a half. I know from my time working with Mick Channon how well this horse has always worked at home, so it was no surprise to see him supported down to odds-on to win this. He has worked very well with the best Flat horses in Mick's yard over the last couple of years, so it's possible that connections may have a major handicap on the Flat in mind for him this summer. I expect him to earn a mark in the high 80s after this.
Bye for now
Sunday 28 December
I am seeing what has been a successful 2014 out with a frustrating run of seconds, both with my selections and personal bets. Benvolio was headed in the final stride in the Coral Welsh Grand National while the day before Dynaste plugged on well to chase home Siliviniaco Conti, although in his case he was comfortably beaten.
I am not sure that we learnt that much more about the Cheltenham picture at Leopardstown today. I was hoping to see Boston Bob run well in the Lexus Chase and, to an extent he did, finishing fourth but he is still not back to the sort of form we saw from him in the spring. Road To Riches maintained his upward curve with a gutsy effort and is now a top price of 12/1 for the Gold Cup behind 3/1 favourite Silviniaco Conti. Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth were disappointing, now priced at 16/1 and 20/1 respectively. Boston Bob is 20/1 with stable-companion On His Own, who ran well to finish second, the same price.
Earlier Lieutenant Colonel just got the better of a tight tussle with Jetson in the Grade 1 hurdle. Briar Hill ran better than his finishing position suggests, pleasing trainer Willie Mullins in the process.
At Catterick my selection Frederic made a successful hurdling debut. The son of Zamindar has shown ability for Luca Cumani on the Flat and I thought he had to be all right because he was bought by Cumani's former assistant Donald McCain. He won here despite running green and racing keenly in the early stages.
Bye for now.
Tuesday 23 December
I have just finishing writing the Online Preview for the Boxing Day/New Year period of racing.
It weights in at over 5,000 words this time - I think that's an all-time high for word count. It just so happens that there is a handful of horses entered over the holiday that I have either been told about or have been waiting for. There may be rather more horses on Boxing Day than I would prefer, but it just so happens the ones I am interested in are entered. I also have news for the weekend and Monday's racing, together with a few names for the longer term. The Online Preview also has my in-depth analysis of the Coral Welsh Grand National, King George and Christmas Hurdle.
It has been a very good year for us and I hope to end it on a high.
I will be updating my line (0906 150 1555) on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) evening at 8.00pm with an early look at Boxing Day and then again on Boxing Day morning by 11.00am when, as usual, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
It only remains for me to thank you for your interest this past 12 months and to wish you a very Happy Christmas and the best of good fortune in 2015.
Bye for now
Sunday 21 December
My Winter Guide was published last week. Orders were still coming through this weekend so please refer to the shop if you would like to order.
I am busy working on my Online Preview for the festive season. It will be available to view on Tuesday evening by 8.00pm.
I have been getting news for a few of the low-key meetings to go along with my preview of the big races including the King George and the Coral Welsh Grand National.
I will be in touch again in the next day or two.
Bye for now
Sunday 14 December
I apologise for not updating this page in the last few days. As you may be aware I have been working hard on the Winter Guide, which I am pleased to say will be despatched to subscribers on Thursday.
The book weighs in at almost 24,000 words, packed with features to keep readers informed and, I hope, entertained over the Christmas and New Year holiday. Apart from the topics advertised in the marketing (refer to the online shop), I have also previewed the Coral Welsh Grand National and a few other races. The interview with the professional gambler has turned out well, while my choice of up-and-coming trainer was Dan Skelton. He could have an interesting runner or two over the holiday period.
Looking back to the weekend I am not quite sure why The New One is not favourite above Faugheen to win the Champion Hurdle. He was officially rated 3lb above Faugheen before Saturday's race and, unlike the favourite, has competed against the best of the current crop of top-class hurdlers. As you may know from my Dark Horses Guide I have been with Faugheen ever since I first heard about him before his bumper success back in May, 2013. Having said that he is not entitled to be as short as 2/1 for the Champion Hurdle - a price which reflects more on his reputation than his achievements on the book.
If you are keen to order a copy of the Winter Guide then please either refer to the online shop or call Rebecca in the office. As I say we expect to get the copies back in time for despatch on Thursday. At £10 it represents good value.
Bye for now
Sunday 7 December
I was disappointed with Boston Bob at Punchestown today.
The word from the yard, and the market support, suggested we were going to see an improved display from the nine-year-old from his return at Down Royal, where he was never put into the race with a chance. Although he shaped better, he did not find much for pressure as the progressive Don Cossack made all to win with something in hand.
This was the first time, in seven starts, that Boston Bob had been beaten over two and a half miles. The eye-catcher of the race was Lord Windermere, who came storming through after the last over a trip at least half a mile short of his requirements. Jim Culloty had left something to work on and this was a very encouraging display from the Gold Cup winner.
I thought my selection Mendip Express was given a fairly challenging task by his rider in the Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday. You don't often see horses come through to win from as far back as he was over the last. He was beaten just three-quarters of a length at the line, never nearer, and I expect Harry Fry to win a valuable staying handicap chase with him at some point. With just eight races to his name he has the potential to improve.
I am busy tidying up the text for the Winter Guide this week. It has to be finished by the weekend and will be published on Thursday week, 18 December. It should make for a lovely read over the Christmas holiday.
Bye for now
Thursday 4 December
Bitofapuzzle was today's star turn on an otherwise humbrum afternoon of racing.
As you may be aware I have written in glowing terms about this daughter of Tamure, who made her hurdling debut at Wincanton this afternoon. A winner of an English point-to-point, she won bumpers at Bangor and Huntingdon last season before beating a strong field on her return at Cheltenham last month. She looked an out-and-out galloper there, which is probably why Harry Fry chose to run her over 2m 6f today. In the end she needed quite hard driving to assert, but she will come on a bundle for the experience and runs next in a Listed race over 2m 4f at Haydock on 20 December.
I expect Bitofapuzzle to go a long way when she eventually goes chasing over a distance of ground.
There is high-class racing this weekend so I am producing my first Snapshot of the season. Please refer to the shop or ring the office if you are keen to give it a try.
Bye for now.
Sunday 30 November
I had a feeling things might not go the way of Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse this afternoon, and so it proved when the highly-regarded Allez Colombieres had to be pulled up on his hurdling debut in the Grade 1 Royal Bond. I felt beforehand that the ex-French four-year-old would need to be very good to beat stable-companion Nichols Canyon, a horse that was rated 111 for John Gosden on the Flat with winning form in two Listed races. In the end Nichols Canyon won cosily from All Hell Let Loose, jumping better than he had when winning the time before at Cork.
Zaidpour took a tumble in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, leaving the way clear for Lieutenant Colonel to beat Jetson, who ran very well on his seasonal return. The Drinmore Novice Chase promised to be the best race of its kind this season and it went to Valseur Lido, giving Willie Mullins a change of luck, from Apache Stronghold. The Tullow Tank never got into contention and is better than this.
On Saturday it was good to see Many Clouds win the Hennessy for Oliver Sherwood. The horse has been a favourite of mine for a long while - I have seen him win a couple of times up the road at Carlisle - but for some reason I didn't stay with him on Saturday. I think it was because he had been raised 7lb, from 144 to 151, for winning on his return to action and I also thought he might just lack the class to win such a prestigious race. The other horse which comes out of the race with great credit is runner-up Houblon Des Obeaux, who ran a blinder off 11st 12lb. In an open year he deserves at entry for the Gold Cup, as does the winner.
Irving was very convincing in the Fighting Fifth although this easy track is far more to his liking than the hill at Cheltenham. I would not have him on my mind for the Champion Hurdle at this stage.
I am busy working on the Winter Guide, which has to be finished by Saturday week. Please refer to the shop if you would like to order a copy.
Bye for now.
Sunday 23 November
It promised to be an informative weekend, and so it proved - with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
I was at Haydock and following the reports from the track and the rain after racing on Friday evening I expected attritional conditions. However after seeing the top weights fill the first two places in the opening races and then watch horses with good ground form run so well I quickly realised the ground was not as testing as official reports had indicated. This was confirmed when I walked the track, and Jeremy Scott then said the same after Melodic Rendezvous had run.
Looking back to yesterday I have seen The New One look better but I liked the way he went about his business. He has a more mature way of racing these days and the strong pace set by runner-up Zamdy Man suited him. Silviniaco Conti won in good style but I still have doubts about him handling the hill in the Gold Cup. The King George is more his race. Taquin Du Seuil and Harry Topper - both suited to more testing ground - struggled from some way out and had to be pulled up. This was another indication that the going was nothing like as soft as described before racing.
On Sunday Vautour put up a most impressive display of jumping on his novice chase debut. There was something about this performance which set my spine tingling. It was his agility and ease over the fences which most impressed and I do not expect the 5/1 available in a couple of places for the Arkle Trophy to last long. Willie Mullins may have others for that race, notably Un De Sceaux, but I will be very surprised if anything usurps Vautour at the top of the Arkle market. That 5/1 could look tremendous value if he gets to Cheltenham in one piece.
Later Balbriggan, a horse I knew well when he was trained by Mick Channon, landed an extraordinary gamble in the Troytown Chase. This is a horse I have liked for a long time but it is not often you see a horse backed from 12/1 to 4/1 for a race of this type. Owners Lee Power and Willie McKay must have had a right old touch, so good luck to them on a horse well bought for £35,000 in May. The view before the race was that he had a decent chance off his low weight, with slight concerns about the ground.
I am writing an Online Preview for the Hennessy this week. It will be available to view on Friday evening.
Bye for now.
Monday 17 November
It proved another good meeting for Online Preview clients, with five winners including four on Saturday.
In some ways the most impressive winner of the three days was Unique De Cotte, who landed the opening race on Sunday despite hardly jumping a hurdle fluently. He lost momentum and/or ground at every flight but still had enough in hand to power up the hill and get up close home to land some hefty bets. This lightly-raced six-year-old had jumped clumsily when beaten at odds-on at Kelso in February and it may be he's the sort of horse that will never jump fluently. David Pipe, who said afterwards that he told owner JP McManus he thought the horse would win, said he jumped well at home but for me there is something fundamentally wrong with his technique. He is, though, a horse of some potential and I expect to see him raised a few pounds for this despite the narrowness of the winning margin.
My selections for the last four races on Saturday all won. Paul Nicholls had expressed misgivings about Caid Du Berlais acting in the ground, but he had w