When Will the Rain Return … ?

January 17th, 2019 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

I am struggling to come to terms with the word ‘firm’ appearing in going reports at a time when we are usually racing in hock-deep ground.

In fairness to the clerks of the courses the reports from the trainers and jockeys have been very favourable with regard to the conditions. However there is an obvious reluctance on the part of the ground staff to water the ground for fear of rain and a consequent significant deterioration in the going.

As you are probably aware I live in the South Lakes and this has been one of the driest winters I can remember.

As for the racing, the size of the fields have held up quite well. Venetia Williams, whose horses generally relish the mud, has struck her traditional rich vein of form despite the conditions. There have also been instances of the ground changing following a sharp shower or two – that was the case at Plumpton on Wednesday.

Looking at the forecast for the next few days there is the odd shower but they may be wintry, with morning frosts and snow on the hills. Haydock expects good to soft patches on Saturday but Catterick next Wednesday may have areas riding good to firm.

In my experience nature has a way of balancing itself out, and it would not surprise me to see a mild but very wet spring. This could make things interesting at Cheltenham, with the proven mudlarks possibly coming into the meeting fresher than most and encountering their conditions for the first time this season.

Talking of Cheltenham there was a time when by the end of January I had a fairly well-stocked portfolio of ante-post bets. This year I have none, other than a handful I placed when writing my Dark Horses Annual.

Most firms are now offering the ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession on the main races but, even so, nothing really tempts me.

The Champion Hurdle looks flat, with Buveur D’Air a top price of 13/8 ahead of 4/1 chance Laurina. Willie Mullins, who prefers not to commit to running plans until the last moment, also has last year’s runner-up Melon and Sharjah in the frame, while Gordon Elliott may yet be tempted to run Apple’s Jade.

Perhaps Melon, at 10/1, could be of interest. Well backed for the race last year when running Buveur D’Air to a neck, he shaped well on his return at Leopardstown over Christmas and he has probably been laid out for the race again. I would certainly expect him to finish closer to stable-companion Sharjah than when they met last month.

The Gold Cup also has a very open look to it.

Presenting Percy and Native River head the market at around 9/2 and 5/1, with the up-and-coming Kemboy next in at 8s and Clan Des Obeaux not far behind at a top price of 10/1. Former favourite Might Bite, who is expected to now go directly to the race, is a long-looking 20/1. If he makes the line-up and there have been upbeat reports of his progress at home then that price won’t be around on the day.

Despite the weather results for my services have been very good this season, I am usually best when the mud is flying, as weight and stamina then count for so much, but there have been some good results on the all-weather and selectivity has paid off over the jumps.

It is less than two months to the Festival so let’s hope there is sufficient ease in the ground to allow the trainers to get their leading candidates primed for the big day.

Bye for now