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Last Updated

29/6/2015



 

Monday 29 June

I am away travelling for a few days so will update this page as and when I can.

Bye for now

***

Sunday 21 June

Looking back to the events at Royal Ascot last week my overall verdict would be that it was challenging. from a betting perspective, but a great success for the occasion.

From the betting viewpoint I just about broke even. There have been far too many seconds this season and the trend continued this week, but my select list of horses to note for the meeting in the Bulletin Book came up trumps when all three horses won. The fact that was done without the benefit of entries just goes to show how important it is to focus on specific horses rather than get drawn into analysing a race simply because it is there.

On day one I was pleased with the way Cougar Mountain ran, finishing strongly into third behind Solow. This effort was far in excess of his 109 rating and a Group 1 looks sure to come his way. Consort did well to get placed in a Group 1 in the St James's Palace Stakes. Gleneagles just carries on winning and if he keeps this up he may well live up to Aidan O'Brien's suggestion that he's the best miler he has trained. I gather Windsor Castle Stakes winner Washington DC had worked better than Coventry Stakes runner-up Air Force Blue in their preparation for this meeting.

Acapulco put up a breathtaking performance in the Queen Mary Stakes. The imposing daughter of Scat Daddy has the scope to progress and has to be on the shortlist for the Breeders' Cup. Free Eagle was probably fortunate to just beat The Grey Gatsby, who was short of room inside the final furlong. He has the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc as future targets. Old friend Gm Hopkins at last landed the big race his talent warrants when digging deep to win the Royal Hunt Cup. My concern beforehand was that the ground could be on the sharp side for him. He can now tackle Listed and Group races.

Time Test, one of my Premier List qualifiers from the Dark Horses Annual, looked Group 1 material in the Tercentenary Stakes. Peacock, over three lengths back in second, was rated 109 going into this race so the winner must have run to a mark around 115. He is bred to be even better over a mile and a half. Curvy was a gutsy winner for us in the Ribblesdale Stakes and the progressive Trip To Paris beat the luckless Kingfisher in the Gold Cup. Forgotten Rules, in third, will be seen in a far better light on softer ground. I was disappointed that Udododontu didn't quite manage to win the Britannia. This would have been a very welcome result for Richard Guest, who may not get another chance to have a winner here.

Balios, another Premier List horse, made the anticipated improvement to win the King Edward VII Stakes. He should have won on his return at Newmarket's Guineas meeting and I expect him to be competing at Group 1 level before too long. I was surprised to see Muhaarar win the Commonwealth Cup with such ease. Charlie Hills has never concealed the high esteem in which he holds the horse, but I have to say I never expected such a victory of such authority. Ervedya won what will probably prove a very decent renewal of the Coronation Stakes. Lucida had looked a little unlucky in the 1,000 Guineas and she was again unfortunate here, staying on well from her outside draw in stall nine of nine. Arab Dawn was another winner for the Bulletin Book in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.

Ballydoyle, along with stable-companions Sir Isaac Newton and Kingfisher, was unlukcy not to win the Chesham Stakes. Her inexperience found her out through the race and, as on her debut, it was only in the final furlong she was getting the message. She is proving a slow learner. Mahsoob may join stable-companion Eagle Top in the King George. He won the Wolferton here off 106 and will be rated around 113/155 after this. Snow Sky put his proven stamina to good use in the Hardwicke Stakes, once it was clear that nothing else was going to go on. Eagle Top stayed on well after being intimidated by Postponed in the final quarter mile. Brazen Beau was unlucky not to win the Diamond Jubilee after having to race along up the stands' side.

There is much to glean from the meeting which proved every bit as good as it promised to be.

Bye for now

***

Sunday 14 June

Frankie Dettori's resurgence back into centre stage continued this afternoon when Star Of Seville atoned for a troubled run in the Oaks by winning the Prix de Diane at Chantilly.

I had not expected the daughter of Duke Of Marmalade, who is out of a Selkirk mare, to stay the mile and a half at Epsom and even without the interference, in my view, she still would have struggled to get home.

Today, back to an extended ten furlongs, she kept on well to beat the twice-raced Physiocrate with Little Nightingale in third. As usual there was trouble in running behind, with Mojo Risin getting bustled around a bit having been off the pace and Malabar a little short of room when trying to make her challenge.

I have just put my message to line on 0906 150 1555 looking ahead to Royal Ascot. There are a few interesting jockey bookings that have caught my eye, notably in the handicaps. I will be updating my line twice a day, every evening by 8.00pm with early thoughts for those of you who like to trade on the exchanges or take early prices, and then again each day by 11.15 when, as usual, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.

As you are aware I have never looked forward to a Royal Ascot as much as next week's meeting. I hope that you will be joining me, either through the line or one of my wide range of services.

Bye for now

***

Friday 12 June

I have never looked forward to a Royal Ascot meeting as much as next week, but I have to advise you that my final selections will be very dependent on the state of the ground.

The going is currently good, with good to firm areas, but as you may be aware thunderstorms and flash floods are forecast for the area over the next few days. It is because circumstances can change at short notice that I write the Online Preview, which is available to download the evening before the day’s racing (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings). I also provide a text service, which is sent by noon each day and includes even later news.

I am not sure that today’s Sandown winner Muntadab is going to be quite as good as trainer Sir Michael Stoute hopes. The son of Invincible Spirit made hard work of defying an opening handicap mark of 78 in today’s 0-80, but he hadn’t looked straightforward when winning his maiden at Lingfield. He won’t be raised more than 5 or 6lb for this half-length success and may be the type of slow-burner his trainer handles so well.

I will be looking ahead to Royal Ascot on Sunday evening. Give me a ring on 0906 150 1555 to hear the latest news for the meeting and that all-important weather update (calls charged at £1.50 a minute at all times).

Have a great weekend and bye for now

***

Monday 8 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

Well it wasn't a bad day for clients with my only two star bets winning - Code Red at 14/1 and Al Bandar at 3/1 - but I would never have found the 50/1 Oaks winner Qualify in a month of Sundays.

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.

Qualify has plenty of stamina on her dam's side and this came to the fore in the dying strides as she caught the favourite close home. Of the others Lady Of Dubai ran a blinder to finish third while Diamondsandrubies, back in fourth, would have been a length or two closer but for being hampered by stable-companion Together Forever two furlongs from home.

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.

I advised that Code Red was overpriced at 20'1 in the morning and was pleased to see him win despite pulling quite hard in the early stages. The colt had run very well in the 2,000 Guineas and this drop back in trip was ideal. William Muir was very positive about his chance beforehand. Al Bandar, my only other star bet of the meeting, won the last with something in hand. He won at Brighton last season for Richard Hannon and likes switchback tracks.

You can hear my early news for Derby day this evening and I will update the line again tomorrow morning when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.

Have a great weekend and bye for now.

***

Sunday 31 May

Things went more according to plan in this afternoon's Prix du Jockey Club, when French 2,000 Guineas runner-up New Bay came with a strong late run to beat Highland Reel, who improved from his debut run behind the winner three weeks ago. The winner stayed the trip very well and Andre Fabre is likely to have the Arc as a long-term aim.

We should be hearing more news tomorrow about the final fields for the Derby and Oaks. I have never known so much uncertainty this close to Epsom, with doubts even about the stamina of the first and second favourites. One rumour doing the rounds over the weekend was that Legatissimo could switch from the Oaks to the Derby, leaving Found to contest the Oaks. What does seem clear is that the team at Coolmore take the view, and I agree, that this year's colts are not as strong as the fillies. As things stand at the moment their only two runners in the Derby are Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro, but then they may decide to let Gleneagles join them in the line-up as well.

It was interesting to read Sir Michael Stoute's comment in today's Racing Post about Ryan Moore's availability for Crystal Zvezda, suggesting that the filly was 'his mount' and that Moore had not yet made up his mind. This would suggest Moore is not contractually obliged to ride for Coolmore, or perhaps any arrangement that exists is between Moore and O'Brien. Legatissimo is, of course, trained by David Wachman.

John Gosden, who had two fillies in the Oaks, was extolling the virtues of Crystal Zvezda last week and my view is that she may end up favourite. Richard Hughes seemed impressed when riding her in a piece of work on Saturday but I am sure Stoute would sooner have Moore retain the mount. I was most impressed with the manner of her win at Newbury, although that form falls a few pounds short of the level achieved by the 1,000 Guineas winner.

I am working hard this week on both Epsom and Royal Ascot, with the Bulletin Book due out on Wednesday week.

Bye for now.

***

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 scorc

Marten Julian, 69 Highgate, Kendal, Cumbria. LA9 4ED    Tel: 08448 11 22 96    -    Fax: 08448 11 22 97    -    email: info@martenjulian.com