February 24th, 2015 | Marten's Current Racing Diary
Cheltenham Festival 2015
Most pundits will be taking the view that this year’s Cheltenham Festival is dominated by Willie Mullins’ stable and that his favourites, notably on the first day, will be hard to oppose. I see this as a tremendous opportunity, with bookmakers becoming increasingly competitive in their offers to backers and each-way value to be found elsewhere.
In fact one of my probable Star Bets will be up against a Mullins’ favourite, while I have also received very good information from a tried and tested Irish source for one of the handicaps. I also had strong news last weekend for a horse that the trainer will not be rushing to include in any pre-Cheltenham previews.
Subscribers to the Cheltenham Package will also receive my very latest news in the Online Suplements, available to view each evening prior to the day’s racing. This service is of great value to those who like to trade on the Exchanges.
I hope you will be joining me again for what promises to be another great Festival.
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 won in heavy going in France and I felt he would be all right in it. Katkeau landed the handicap hurdle with something in hand. If he keeps sound then there are bigger prizes on the horizon for him. Golden Doyen showed great tenacity to wrestle back the lead from Hargam while Bitofapuzzle vindicated trainer Harry Fry’s high opinion of her by conceding weight to the whole field. This daughter of Tamure could prove a top-class chasing mare in time, perhaps even up to Gold Cup standard.
My next Online Preview is on Friday week for Hennessy day at Newbury.
Bye for now
Friday 7 November
I wrote in the Dark Horses Jump Guide that this season’s Gold Cup had a very open look to it, and that view has been borne out by the early-season form, with a handful of the leading contenders beaten on their seasonal returns. Silviniaco Conti, Holywell, Cue Card, Taquin De Seuil, Boston Bob and On His Own have all been beaten although it would probably be best not to give too much credence to those results as things will be very different in March. It’s a long season, and trainers don’t really want their top horses peaking at this stage.
The Champion Hurdle picture is rather clearer, with The New One doing everything expected of him at Kempton and market momentum building up behind Faugheen now that Willie Mullins has confirmed that stable-companion Vautour will be sent chasing.
We have already seen some decent novice hurdlers in action and I was not alone in being taken with the performance of Jollyallan at Exeter on Tuesday. Harry Fry has made an outstanding impression since taking out a licence to train three season ago and in Jollyallan, who was bought by JP McManus after winning a bumper at Exeter last April, he has a young hurdler with a big future – perhaps leading up to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March.
Harry Fry’s strike-rate is quite remarkable given that he is a jumps trainer – a 35 per cent strike rate with chasers in 2012/13, a strike-rate of 39 per cent with chasers in 2013/14 and then so far this season operating at 33 per cent with chasers. His record with hurdlers is even better this season – 36 per cent – and this is clearly a reflection on how well Harry both handles and places his young horses.
Dan Skelton, another ex-assistant to Paul Nicholls, is also doing very well and I see both these young men as likely successors to Messrs Nicholls, Henderson and O’Neill. Willie Mullins, by contrast, will be hard to topple from his perch.
The 2014 Flat turf season ends at Doncaster tomorrow. This has been my most successful yet and I just hope the run of good fortunes continues through the weeks of winter. I found Pivotman and Norse Legend for my clients on Monday – at 28/1 and 25/1 respectively. There were sound reasons for both selections and I have hopes for more long-priced selections in the weeks to come, especially on the all-weather.
The Cheltenham Open Meeting starts next Friday, and I already have news and information for the meeting from a couple of good sources. The Online Preview will be published in two parts, on Thursday and Friday evening, packed with news for this increasingly popular meeting.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Friday 31 October
Mick Channon and Henrietta Knight have a decent team of horses for jumping this season and following last week’s novice chasing success with Knock House they struck again this afternoon at Uttoxeter with Sgt Reckless, who was making his chasing debut. I know from talking to Mick that he was hoping that connections would keep the horse to hurdling, with the prospect of picking up decent prize money in the trial races, but the Radfords are dyed-in-the-wool jumping fans who see hurdling as no more than a stepping stone to chasing.
To my eyes Sgt Reckless never put a foot wrong here, always travelling smoothly for Brian Hughes and quickening after the last to beat Gentleman Jon with plenty in hand at the finish. There was money for Horatio Hornblower but he could never get near the leaders and finished third.
Henrietta said afterwards that the winner lost two front shoes and the ground would have been a little easier than ideal. You can get 25/1 about Sgt Reckless for the Arkle, which may appeal to some, but for me he will probably prove better suited to the flat track at Aintree. The ground may also be better for him there.
I will have a few thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup for tomorrow. Ring my line for all my news when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
Bye for now
Sunday 26 October
I am away at Newmarket Sales on Monday and will be back here on Wednesday with some observations from the weekend.
My brochure of services for the jumps season is now out, available to view on this site or in the shop and also being despatched by post. I hope there is something that appeals to you for the months ahead.
Bye for now
Friday 24 October
There were interesting two-year-olds all over the place today, but the one which has most impressed me in recent days is Heatstroke, who came from way off the pace to win by two and three-quarter lengths at Kempton on Wednesday evening.
Although last of 10 on his only previous start at Goodwood in August, I had heard beforehand that he was quite well regarded so felt able to pass him on as a selection when he ran this week. As a son of Galileo out of a mare by Danehill, and a full brother to 1m 4f winner The Corsican, he is bred to thrive over middle distances. In fact he did well to win over this sharp mile and it will be interesting to see what sort of mark he receives. I get the feeling black type beckons next year.
This has been one of the most successful seasons for selections, with clear pointers given in the Dark Horses Annual to all five Classic winners. I was pleased to dig out Taghrooda and Night Of Thunder and only wish I had put them in a double. At the time I wrote about them the filly was 33/1 for the Oaks. I backed Night Of Thunder at 20/1, only for him to win the 2,000 Guineas at 40/1 following that strange run in the Greenham at Newbury.
Give me a ring tomorrow for my weekend thoughts. As always any selections will be given in the first minute of the message (0906 150 1555).
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Sunday 19 October
The New One did everything expected of him when winning the Listed hurdle at Kempton this afternoon for the second year in succession. There was a point turning for home when it looked like he could find himself short of room, but once extricated for a clear run his turn of foot put the issue beyond doubt. His jumping was not flawless, but then it seldom is, and it never cost him ground or momentum. Most bookmakers left his price for the Champion Hurdle unchanged at around 4/1. There is a race at Haydock for him next.
Looking back to yesterday it proved another good day for the selections, with three winners.
The one that excites me most is Forgotten Rules, who looks a stayer of great potential. There has been talk about this horse for a while now and the 5/1 on offer for the Gold Cup next June, albeit a long way off, could look pretty good value if the ground is not too quick on the day. This is the sort of horse that could dominate that race for a few years to come.
Free Eagle showed that he had the courage to match his talent in the Champion Stakes. The colt was never able to reproduce the turn of foot in the heavy ground that his connections know he has, but it was still most encouraging to see him finish the race so well. At first sight he ran like a horse that needed further, but that would not be a fair appraisal of the horse. He may get a mile and a half next season, but it will be on quicker ground over ten furlongs that we see him at his best. One can never be sure of such things, but on better ground I think Free Eagle would have won the race yesterday.
Earlier Gordon Lord Byron won the big sprint in gutsy fashion, weaving through a narrow gap in the final furlong to go clear.
My Dark Horses Jumps Guide was published on Friday. It is packed with around 35,000 words and at 174 pages is the biggest yet. I hope it proves to everyone’s liking.
You can see my range of services for the jumps season in the shop area of this website.
Bye for now.
Tuesday 15 October
I am not sure that anyone can tell you how the ground will be riding for Champions’ Day at Ascot on Saturday.
The official description, given late this afternoon, is that it is now ‘soft, with heavy patches.’ Further showers are expected, together with warmer and drier weather on Thursday and Friday.
Dermot Weld will walk the track on Saturday morning before making a commitment to run Free Eagle in the Champion Stakes. Ladbrokes, who have a line to the Irish scene, offer the longest price of 7/2 about the colt, although my view is that he will be allowed to take his chance. There is no evidence that he will not act on easy ground – his siblings including the progressive Custom Cut handle it well – but we do know that his main rivals, notably Cirrus Des Aigles and Noble Mission, relish soft ground.
I expect Free Eagle to have proved himself a colt of the highest class by this time next year. It may not, though, be until next season that we see him realise his potential.
I am busy working away on both Newmarket’s tremendous card on Friday and Champions’ day on Saturday, with an Online Preview for Ascot. The service has again recorded a profit to level stakes so I hope to see the run of good fortune continue into the weekend. At this stage my best news is for a horse in the Balmoral Handicap.
Bye for now
Sunday 12 October
It would not surprise me to find that today’s 7f maiden at the Curragh proves a source of some useful performers next year.
The 23-runner field attracted a handful of Group-entered two-year-olds including the winner Royal Navy Ship, who has entries for the Racing Post Trophy, next year’s Irish 2,000 Guineas and this week’s Dewhurst. Intriguingly, Aidan O’Brien had left three of today’s runners – the winner, Cradle Mountain and The Happy Prince – in Friday’s Dewhurst Stakes, suggesting he was not sure which of his four runners would win. Runner-up Jacobean was the mount of Joseph O’Brien but he was left with a lot to do before finishing strongly into second.
The winner was ridden more handily than the runner-up and I expect him to prove Group class next season, if not before.
I am writing an Online Preview for the big day at Ascot on Saturday. Please refer to the shop for further details.
Bye for now
Monday 6 October
In what had looked one of the most open Arcs for years, Treve would not have been in my first half-dozen to win the race.
This time a year ago, in the aftermath of her deeply impressive victory at Longchamp, she was rightly put up as the long-term ante-post favourite to win the race again. However all the signs this season indicated she had lost her sparkle, although I have to say on her previous start in the Prix Vermeille she had been given anything but a hard race. Only in France would they give a top-class horse such an easy time in a Group 1, but Criquette Head knows more about the mare than anyone and that quiet run probably rekindled the filly’s appetite for the game. I am a great believer in giving a horse that has lost its way – or any horse for that matter – the chance to go to the races and enjoy themselves, and this may have made all the difference in the end.
If you had told me that the Arc was going to be won by a horse this easily then I would probably have guessed it was Ectot or one of the Japanese horses. Few horses return to their best after the sort of setbacks Treve has endured, and I would attribute this great success to the trainer. In fairness she never lost faith in the filly, even after Royal Ascot when she looked a shadow of her former self.
I had backed a number of horses for the race over the last few weeks, with Flintshire standing as my biggest winner. Andre Fabre, with seven previous Arcs to his name, did a great job to get this four-year-old in tip-top shape to run the best race of his career. Taghrooda and Kingston Hill, from their wide draws, ran stormers, giving a further boost to this year’s crop of three-year-olds.
Of the two I have to put in a good word for Kingston Hill, who looked like being swallowed up two furlongs from home before staying on again with the utmost courage to finish fourth. He could be awesome when he gets the chance to race on soft ground, something he has never really had this season.
The Japanese horses were left too far out of their ground, with Gold Ship being hopelessly placed from flagfall. He plugged on quite well at the finish and has another good race in him.
All in all this will probably go down as a decent renewal of the Arc. Looking ahead, I want to be with Kingston Hill next season.
On Saturday I was most impressed with the performance of Lightning Moon in the Group 3 John Guest Bengough Stakes at Ascot.
Ed Walker has a potential Group 1 sprinter on his hands with this unbeaten son of Shamardal, who had been very impressive when winning a handicap at Haydock in May by six lengths. This was his first venture into Group company and, with just three runs to his name, he looked to me like a colt going places fast.
I believe the plan is to run next in the Champion Sprint in a fortnight’s time.
Bye for now
Friday 3 October
I am working on my first live Racing Snapshot for Sunday’s Arc. This looks one of the most open renewals of the race for many years, and it would not surprise me to see it develop more into a test of stamina than speed. Refer to the shop if you want to order (£5).
There could be congestion on the inside of the field, allowing horses drawn wide to enjoy an advantage.
I will be back tomorrow with more thoughts on this fascinating race.
Bye for now
Thursday 2 October
I have just been looking at video footage of the three Japanese challengers for Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which I have to say looks one of the most challenging renewals in recent years.
To add further confusion it seems that there may be rain on Sunday, although to what extent is unclear. The one thing that I thought we could rely on was that the ground would be riding good or quicker, but the Bois de Boulogne is prone to heavy showers in the autumn and they could change everything.
The Japanese horses mostly race on quicker ground and, of the three, the one with the proven stamina is Gold Ship.
I am producing a Snapshot for Arc day. Following the trial this is the first time this service is going live, so please refer to the Shop if you want to give it a try.
Bye for now
Tuesday 30 September
There is not even the hint of a drop of rain at Longchamp over the next few days, which may encourage the clerk of the course to water the track. The French authorities are more inclined to water than in this country, so I would expect the ground to ride more good than good to firm at the weekend.
One thing we can be sure of is that the ground will not be soft, which may count against a few of the home team in the Arc. Looking at the support card, the news came through today that neither Tiggy Wiggy nor Muthmir will be supplemented for the Prix de l’Abbaye. There was talk that the latter would take his chance if the ground was quick, but William Haggas prefers to keep him at home for a Listed contest at Ayr on Saturday.
Richard Hannon is tempted to run his top two-year-old Ivawood in the £500,000 Tattersalls Millions 2yr Old Trophy at Newmarket on Saturday. A victory in this race, with the winner getting £165,000, would more than close the gap between him and John Gosden in the Trainers’ Championship. Hannon also has entries for the £300,000 Fillies’ race this same day.
I hope to produce a Snapshot – our new product – for Arc day on Sunday. Please contact Rebecca if you would like to learn more.
Bye for now
Friday 26 September
Owner Robin Geffen invests heavily in racing, both over jumps and on the Flat, so it was good to see his Gm Hopkins land the Silver Cambridgeshire with such ease this afternoon.
Robin has been a loyal client over the years and he has been kind enough to keep me updated on the progress and plans for this horse. The hope was, of course, that he would run in the Cambridgeshire itself but he was some way adrift of making the cut. There is a valuable handicap for him at Ascot’s Champion’s Day meeting. As for his new mark, I expect a rise of about 12lb for this comfortable victory, which would put him in the low 100s.
As a son of Dubawi out of a mare by Lomitas there is reason to believe the colt could do even better over a mile and a quarter or more. I expect to see him earn black type next year.
Earlier I was impressed with Lucida in the Rockfel Stakes. I brought this filly to your notice after her first race, since when she has run second in the Dubutante Stakes and then last time a neck second to Cursory Glance, where she may have been a little unlucky. I loved the way she came up the hill here, looking as if the extra furlong of the Guineas will be ideal. At this stage she would be my main fancy for the race, ahead of Cursory Glance.
This looks like another profitable meeting for the Online Preview, By all means give me a ring tomorrow when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
Have a great weekend and bye for now
Wednesday 24 September
I am sorry that I have not updated this page for a few days. I have been up to my eyes completing work on the Dark Horses Jumps Guide, which is now with the designer and should be back ready for despatch within a fortnight.
I was keen to get the book out earlier this season as it seems that the better horses appear quicker these days than was once the case. I remember years ago that the hardy professionals never used to think the National Hunt season started properly until the Hennessy meeting. Now, with summer jumping and all-weather gallops for training at home, you are likely to see top-class performers running in October.
In fact we saw a fairly decent sort running in the opener at Perth today. I never expected Blaklion to be in action so soon, and in the end he made heavy weather of winning the race, but I expect to see him to better effect on proper winter ground.
I had to switch my mind back to the Flat this afternoon for the Online Preview, covering tomorrow’s card at Newmarket. Part Two, available tomorrow evening, will cover Friday and Saturday.
Bye for now
Sunday 14 September
There is so much that one could say about the weekend’s racing, but the horse I am most keen to bring to your attention – if he is not in your mind already – is Free Eagle, who made a belated seasonal debut at Leopardstown yesterday.
You may remember that this is the colt that started 5/2 on to beat Australia in a Group 3 race at this track a year ago. In the end he was beaten six lengths, having made a tremendous impression when beating Orchestra on his racecourse debut there a month earlier. Dermot Weld left people in no doubt of the high esteem in which he held the colt – he was given a clutch of top-class entries, both in Europe and the States – but he fractured a tibia in the spring and had to have time off.
The way he quickened to win this took the breath away, and his winning time was just a fraction quicker than The Grey Gatsby later in the evening. He also won with more in hand, beating two older horses rated on 106 by seven lengths.
Dermot Weld says the plan is to aim him at the Champion Stakes at Ascot, where he could come up against The Grey Gatsby and Australia, although it would not surprise me to learn that the latter may now be dropped in trip to a mile. Somehow I can’t see the Coolmore team wanting to risk him again over a mile and a quarter given that he already has a Group 1 victory over that trip. Free Eagle does, though, look rather special.
Bye for now
Friday 12 September
The main action was at Doncaster today, where Estimate won the Doncaster Cup for the Queen, but keep a close eye on Gm Hopkins, who defied a big market drift to win the 1m handicap at Sandown.
I am not sure why the colt was so weak in the market – he ended up 8/1 and around 11 on Betfair – but he won this quite cosily in the end. I know from talking to owner Robin Geffen that there are hopes the colt will prove himself better than a handicapper, and having won here off 87 I expect his new mark to be in the mid-90s. The Cambridgeshire has long been the plan but even a penalty may leave him a few pounds too short to make the cut.
Gm Hopkins is bred for middle distances and he is best suited to easy ground, so expect even better things for him over a longer trip this autumn and, more notably, next season.
Things are going quite well at the moment so give me a call to hear my preview of St Leger day on Saturday morning when, as always, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
Bye for now
Tuesday 9 September
I am currently applying myself to this week’s St Leger meeting which, contrary to expectations, will start on ground which is expected to ride on the easy side of good.
The track took 14mm of rain on Saturday, which bodes well for the current favourite Kingston Hill. Roger Varian’s colt has been crying out for some give underfoot which, coupled with the step up to one and three-quarter miles, should allow him to show his best.
My Online Preview covers the Friday and Saturday of the meeting and will be available to view on Thursday evening.
Please refer to the shop for details of how to order.
Bye for now
Sunday 7 September
I don’t see a drop of rain forecast for the Doncaster area over the next few days which almost certainly means a little irrigation will have to take place for the four-day meeting which starts on Wednesday.
Such conditions would count against the long-time St Leger ante-post favourite Kingston Hill, who has been unlucky not to get his ground so far this season. If conditions were soft, stepped up to this one and three-quarter miles I would be very confident of the colt going close. The way things look there must even be a doubt about his running, especially with alternative targets on more suitable ground open to him abroad.
Of the others Snow Sky would have reasonable claims, without overexciting me, while Romsdal has to put a poor run at Ascot behind him. Windshear can be expected to run his usual game race, as would Mark Johnston’s Hartnell. His stable-companion Alex My Boy and Forever Now, first and second last time out at Goodwood, are less-exposed than most in a race which looks particularly open.
I will be writing an Online Preview for days three and four of the meeting, out on Thursday.
Please refer to the shop for details of how to order.
Bye for now
Wednesday 3 September
It really brightens up the day when you see an old-fashioned coup successfuly landed and we had that today when Saint Helena won the 2m 0-100 handicap at Southwell for Jim Best.
The six-year-old mare was one of two in the race from the yard, with Rhys Flint engaged to ride and Tony McCoy on Into The Wind. However late in the morning Into The Wind was withdrawn, allowing McCoy to switch to ride Saint Helena. Before the withdrawal Saint Helena had been available at around 6/1 with the bookmakers, but sustained support saw her backed to 11/10. It was not plain sailing by any means, but McCoy’s strength got her home with little to spare at the line.
Saint Helena had looked like a job waiting to happen for a while. A fair performer on the Flat for Harry Dunlop, she won three times and peaked at a mark of 84. Jim Best bought her cheaply, for 6,000gns, last autumn since when she has run seven times over hurdles, pulling up on three occasions and being beaten 82 lengths, 84 lengths, 74 lengths and 70 lengths on the other four. The handicapper had been reluctant to allocate the mare a rating until, probably reluctantly, giving her a mark of 82.
In fairness he got this about right, because she did not appear to have a great deal in hand passing the post.
I started my preview of the day’s racing with news of this likely gamble, and it may pay to keep an eye on the absent Into The Wind, who has a similar profile to today’s winner.
There will be plenty of people up in arms about what happened at Southwell today, but anyone with the eyes to see and the merest hint of insight would have been alerted by the early market strength that something was up.
Connections are entitled to try and earn a few quid out of the game – the prize-money for winning this today would not pay for more than a month’s keep – and although the mare’s hurdling form gave no clue to her potential, we knew from the Flat that she was capable of winning.
By the way I have decided to write an Online Preview covering the third and fourth days of next week’s St Leger meeting. You will be able to purchase it (£10) when it is put on the Online Shop.
Bye for now
Friday 29 August
This is one of the quieter weekends of the summer, with plenty of competitive but relatively low-key racing.
The highlight is the Group 2 Solario Stakes at Sandown, but I doubt we will be seeing a colt with the class of last year’s winner Kingman.
Aktabantay and Cock Of The North, second and third in the Superlative Stakes, clash again with Future Empire, winner of a Newmarket maiden, looking one of the main threats. I have to say the race does little to excite me.
It’s just a fortnight to the St Leger, where the ground is going to prove an important factor. I gather we are due for a warm spell in the early part of September, and that could count against the current favourite Kingston Hill, who really does need some give underfoot. Forever Now is coming to hand at the right time and he could be the one to keep an eye on if the ground is going to be good.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Friday 22 August
This has been a good meeting for followers of the Online Preview, with Pale Mimosa winning in good style today to follow the earlier winners on the first two days.
The 2mm of rain which feel early on Friday morning just took the sting out of the ground, which suited Dermot Weld’s filly. I think there is more to come from her, possibly in the Qipco Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October. This is the race in which she stayed on to finish fourth last year.
The 7f maiden at York today was packed with Group-entered two-year-olds but the race went to Luca Cumani’s White Lake, for whom I received a late message. The son of Pivotal had been working well with the yard’s best youngsters but there was so much news for the other runners that connections could not be sure he would win.
Unfortunately Cartmel clashes with Ebor day tomorrow, which means I will struggle to see the big race live, but my news for the fourth and final day of the meeting will be available by 11.30 in the morning when, as usual, any selections will be given in the first minute of the message.
Have a great weekend and bye for now.
Wednesday 20 August
I had a good feeling about this week’s Ebor meeting and the day started well, with Postponed and Felix Leiter and a strong message for Dutch Connection.