Monday 29 June
Sunday 21 June
Friday 12 June
I claim no plaudits for the fact that Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs – first and second in the Derby – made it to the Premier List section of my Dark Horses Annual. The former had impressed me with his finishing effort when beating subsequent Derby third Storm The Stars at Nottingham while Jack Hobbs, having won an all-weather maiden at Wolverhampton a few days after Christmas, appealed as a progressive handicapper with Pattern-class potential.
As someone who enjoys ante-post betting I would have had a modest sum on each at three-figure odds, but Golden Horn did not have a Derby entry at the time and Jack Hobbs was not marked up in the betting until a few days before he ran at Sandown.
As for the Oaks, Qualify did warrant a few lines of mention in the Dark Horses but I never gave her a moment’s consideration for Friday’s Classic. I have since had another look at her run in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and, in truth, she was not really finishing as well as Aidan O’Brien implied after the race. In her defence she does have some very strong stamina influences on her dam’s side, notably from the family of Park Hill Stakes winner Eva Luna.
It must have been pretty galling for the Coolmore owners to see Legatissimo caught in the dying strides by a filly from Ballydoyle that did not run in their colours – especially one that was sold last year.
As for the Derby those, like me, who harboured stamina doubts on the winner’s behalf were put in our place. In fairness my view was that the colt would stay the trip, but perhaps not as well as others. One thing I do believe is that on good ground, or softer, Jack Hobbs would have been closer and possible even have won. As John Gosden says it will be in times to come, as a four and five-year-old, that we see this imposing colt at his best.
Golden Horn will probably now be mainly campaigned at a mile and a quarter, although there is talk of him tackling the King George. Of the others Giovanni Canaletto did indeed prove the pick of Ballydoyle’s three contenders without doing anything to challenge the long-held view that O’Brien lacks a top-class three-year-old colt this year. There has never been the buzz for anything emanating from the yard like we heard for Camelot and Australia.
Elsewhere on the two-day card I have to be impressed with Stravagante in the 1m 2f handicap. The colt went into the race with the profile we have come to associate with challengers from Sir Michael Stoute's yard – he won the race with subsequent St Leger and Breeders’ Cup winner Conduit – and although this son of Rip Van Winkle is unlikely to scale such heights, he is sure to prove effective at Pattern-class level. I expect his mark to rise from 89 to the low 100s following this emphatic victory.
My other selection on Derby day was Barnet Fair, who never got a clear run in the Dash. Looking back this was always on the cards from his nearside stall. Keep him in mind for a similar race, possibly at Goodwood or later in the season at Ayr.
Friday 5 June
I immediately reached back for my Dark Horses Annual and noted that I did, in fact, write a few lines about her but I never had her on my mind for today. I see that she wasn't beaten far, making late headway, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas but she had finished 40 lengths behind Legatissimo in the Newmarket Guineas and even allowing for the extra half mile it was well-nigh impossible to envisage her making up the leeway.
My selection Crystal Zvezda ran a shocker after pulling hard in the early stages. This was nothing like the filly that so impressed me at Newbury and I intend to give her another chance. Perhaps something will come to light. On reflection, the curse of stall one may not have helped Legatissimo while she also expended valuable energy reserves by jig-jogging and bucking on the way to the start. She was probably a little unlucky not to win.
Tuesday 26 May
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.
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.
Friday 22 May
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.
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.
Thursday 14 May
Sunday 10 May
Tuesday 5 May
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
Sunday 26 April
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.
Sunday 19 April
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.
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.
Thursday 16 April
Sunday 12 April
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 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.
Sunday 5 April
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.
Sunday 29 March
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.
Friday 20 March
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
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.
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.
Tuesday 4 February
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.
Sunday 1 February
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.
Sunday 25 January