Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Looking For Signs of Spring

Isn’t the weather ridiculous? They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb; this year it seems to have come in like a hibernating hedgehog and gone out like an antarctic penguin. 

The cold weather is causing all sorts of issues at the racecourse. Not only are numbers down for the camping rally organised at the track by the South Lancashire District of the Camping and Caravanning Association (and who can blame them), but we are struggling to get the grass to grow. All manner of track improvements, including quite a bit of drainage work, were carried out in the Autumn. But we are still waiting for the grass to germinate, despite sewing an especially hardy seed which is supposed to take root at temperatures as low as 2 degrees. 

In the meantime, I expect that many racehorse trainers are tearing their hair out too. One of the noticeable things in the parade ring at Cheltenham two weeks ago was how many horses still had their winter coats. As Spring approaches, horses lose their longer hair – leaving a glossier shiny, short, coat underneath. The changing of a horse’s coat often coincides with an uplift in its well-being, so it is an important factor in assessing the relative merits of horses as they parade before a race at the track. 

While some trainers have their horses jumping out of their skin, others are struggling to find their form and I suspect that the prolonged cold weather in some areas has something to do with it. Compare the success of Nigel Twiston Davies (13 placed horses, including 5 winners, from 24 runners in the last 14 days) to that of Donald McCain (4 placed horses and just 1 winner from 20 runners). I confess that I’ve backed horses trained by both trainers for the Grand National in just over a week’s time: Imperial Commander and Ballabriggs. I’ll be watching the runners from both yards very carefully over the next few days. 

One northern trainer that I know used to swear that his horses started running better when the daffodils came out in his valley, which was usually around mid-March. The daffodils at Cartmel are still tightly wrapped in their buds and there is no sign of flowering. Here’s hoping for a change in the climate before we start racing in May!


Friday, 22 March 2013

The Cheltenham Gold Cup at Cartmel?

The Chester Cup is staged at Chester, the Aintree Hurdle at Aintree, the Galway Plate at Galway and the Lincoln Handicap at … Doncaster?! 

Traditionally the first big Flat-race of the year to be run on turf, the Lincoln heralds the start of the Summer season. It is a time when we look forward to sunny days spent by the Parade Ring, short sleeves and cool glasses of Champagne; which probably explains why this year’s Lincoln meeting is currently under threat of cancellation due to snow.

If the race does go ahead, you might be relieved to know that I haven’t a clue what will win – so I won’t be burdening you with one of my tips. I’ll be following the jump racing at Bangor, where I hope Call Back will find some decent ground and win for the first time since Cartmel last May. 

If the Lincoln is abandoned, we can always re-enact it indoors. If you happen to possess a set of the old board game Totopoly (being a bit sad, I can’t resist collecting them and have at least five versions at home), you might recognise the names of the twelve horses in the game as the Lincoln winners of 1926 – 1937. My personal favourite is “Marmajuke Jinks”. 

The first edition of Totopoly was released in 1938, twenty-seven years before Lincoln Racecourse closed down and the mile-handicap moved to South Yorkshire. The old grandstand at Lincoln stands in front of an ancient patch of common-land on the edge of the city, known as the Carholme, where the races used to take place. As if to emphasise the pace at which life has moved on since the course’s demise, the A57 now separates the grandstand from the track, creating an unusual and rather splendid folly by the side of the main road. The space under the viewing steps is used as a community centre, so there’s a decent cup of tea on offer if you’re passing at the right time of day.  

A trip to the Carholme offers a salutary lesson to any racecourse manager – keep bringing in the crowds or you might find yourself sitting alongside the traffic while your horses run for Monopoly money around a piece of cardboard. It’s not the reason that we’ve decided to put on record levels of prize money at Cartmel this year, but it all helps. 

Perhaps next year we’ll move some races from other tracks to Cumbria – I quite like the sound of the Cartmel-Cheltenham Gold Cup. What do you think?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Your Definitive Gold Cup Guide...

Finally, it’s the race we’ve been anticipating all Winter – the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I thought you’d like to know who is going to win… 

Bobsworth - They say that previous form at the Festival is a serious plus to any horse’s chances, so this convincing winner of the RSA Novices Chase must run well. He won the Hennessy first time up and it is impossible to imagine him finishing out of the first three. 

Cape Tribulation – Another one that won at the Festival last year, Denis O’Regan’s mount beat the 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander here at Cheltenham in January. A really exiting horse who looks primed for a top-three finish. 

Captain Chris – Came within inches of lifting the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December, only to be denied in the last stride by Long Run. He has won at the Festival before and has always looked like a Gold Cup horse. Has to be placed. 

Long Run – The Gold Cup winner of 2011 has also won two King George VI Chases. His amateur jockey has already scored once at this year’s Festival and is riding on a high. Representing the in-form yard of Nicky Henderson, a top-three finish is assured. 

Monbeg Dude – Crikey, did you see the way he won the Welsh National? An impressive winner over a similar distance at Cheltenham in November, I’m really excited about watching Paul Carberry ride this one. A great chance of reaching the places. 

Silviniaco Conti – He’s unbeaten in three runs this season, in which time he has thrashed The Giant Bolster, Long Run and Wayward Prince. The mount of Ruby Walsh, who tops the Festival leader-board this year, he has to be in the first three. 

Sir Des Champs – Oh… another Festival winner. In fact the great hope of Ireland has won at the Festival in each of the last two years. He’s been prepared all season for this and looks nailed on to finish in the first three. 

Sunnyhillboy – A winner at the Festival last year… What? Hold on – that’s right, another Festival winner! Trained by last year’s winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by the Champion Jockey Tony McCoy. Looks assured to pay out each-way. 

The Giant Bolster – I love this horse. He almost produced the shock of the decade when finishing second in this race last year, but has since proved that it was no fluke. David Bridgewater, his trainer, is very bullish that he’ll be in the top three again. 

Wayward Prince – A really promising novice two years ago, he’s hit form again this season – bustling up Silviniaco Conti at Wetherby before striking in a class one chase at Aintree. It’s not inconceivable that he’ll be in the places at a big price. 

In summary then, I expect Silviniaco Conti to win by a nose, with the rest dead-heating for second place.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Selections for Cheltenham Week

If you missed the Cheltenham Festival Preview Night last Thursday - shame on you, you missed a great evening.

Now that we have hoovered-up all the fancy prices about the tips - there is little harm in letting you in on some of the secrets:


The panel liked My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, except Marten Julian who thought the value had gone (he is around 6/4). He liked Melodic Rendezvouz (sadly a non-runner having scoped badly).

Even Marten said that Simonsig shouldn't be taken on in the Arkle. He feels Loch Ba might be an improver in the JLT Speciality Chase, while Jimmy Moffatt liked Knockara Beau (a previous winner at cartmel and one of my favourite horses - not that that is material to the discussion in any way)  

Brian Harding and Jimmy both fancy Countrywide Flame (each way), another Cartmel winner, for the Champion Hurdle. Marten prefers Rock on Ruby and Ferdy Murphy prefers Hurricane Fly.

Quevega will be difficult to beat in the Mares race, but Marten had a good word for She Ranks Me (yet another Cartmel winner in August this year). Attaglance was popular for the final race, the novice handicap chase.


The first five races were pretty easy: Rival D'Estruval, Pont Alexandre, Boston Bob, Sprinter Sacre and Pendra. Except that Marten, seeking out the value as always, thought Pont Alexandre and Sprinter sacre would be too short in the betting. He likes Taquin Du Seuil in the Neptune Novices Hurlde.

Ferdy was especially keen on Le Vent D'Anton, trained by his son in Ireland, for the Bumper. However, Marten had a great story about a misty-morning gallop at Newbury when Sgt Reckless appeared miles clear of some useful flat-types. Take note! 


Ferdy tipped Dynaste in the Jewson Novices Chase when he was still 5/1 - you'll struggle to get 6/4 now.

Sam Winner was the selection in the Pertemps for Ferdy and Marten, although I've since heard a good word for Jetson at 20/1.

The Ryanair will go to Cue Card, Champion Court or First Lieutenant according to the panel (and I'm backing Menorah!).

I'm not sure why Smad Place didn't get a mention for the World Hurdle - he was third last year and the two that beat him aren't running this time. At 14/1 he is a good price. The panel preffered Reve De Sivola (except Marten who fancies Get Me Out Of Here - although he won't want soft ground).

Ferdy trains Divers who he thinks has a good each way chance in the Byrne Group Plate. The interesting gossip was that Ballynagour, the likely favourite, was a regular bleeder in France - and he may struggle to confirm the good impression he made recently on his British debut.

Super Duty was popular for the Kim Muir, although Brian's brother rides one for Nick Gifford which is also quietly fancied - On Trend.


Rolling Star was popular with all the panelists except Ferdy who went for Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle.

At Fishers Cross was also a popular selection in the Albert Bartlett (except for Brian who likes Champagne Fever).

Sir Des Champs was the selection for everyone in the Gold Cup - except for Jimmy Moffatt who said that "the evidence is as plain on the nose on your face - it has to be Silviniaco Conti" - or at least he would have done if he could pronounce the horse's name. For what it is worth, I'm with Jimmy - I can't pronounce the name, but I think it will win. Who knew how to pronounce "Kauto" Star either?

The final race of the festival is traditionally left to Nicky Henderson and there is an obvious word for Alderwood, although Marten typically had a interesting thought about Kid Cassidy. "He'd be a good ride for Timmy Murphy" he said - and who do you think has been jocked up?

Whatever you back - good luck!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

What would you do if you won a million pounds? Would it change your life? Spending the money is the easy part, knowing how to win it is the key – and I have a cunning plan.

Instead of pinning your hopes on six coloured balls in the National Lottery, where the odds are nearly 14 million to one, select six horses at the Cheltenham Festival instead. The odds of winning a million pounds from a bookmaker are, well... 1,000,000 – 1.

Here’s a bet that I prepared earlier. You don’t have to use the same horses, it can be a lot of fun waving that pin! The bet is an accumulator on six horses where the winnings from the first horse roll on to the second, and so on.

Horse no.1 is Knockara Beau in Tuesday’s JLT Speciality Chase. He’s a grand type of horse and a previous winner at Cartmel. Knockara’s been knocking around for a while and he’s not one of those improving youngsters, so he is a big price at 25/1.

Next up is Zarkander in the Champion Hurdle at 4/1. He won the Triumph Hurdle two years ago and was too young to win this race last year. Five year olds have a poor record in the race, which is the only reason I haven’t suggested another Cartmel favourite Countrywide Flame. It’s always nice to follow a horse that you’ve seen in the flesh, particularly if they’ve won at Cartmel, which is why I am siding with She Ranks Me (16/1) in the Mares Hurdle. She has the mighty Quevega to beat, but she’s already picked up two listed races since her Cartmel victory in August.

Previous Festival winners often perform well again in the Championship races and I hope the former Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Menorah (10/1) will do the business for Philip Hobbs in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.

Sadly (for you) I am writing this before I can gather the sound advice of the panellists at our Cheltenham Preview Night on Thursday evening. But I’m still going to put in Ferdy Murphy’s chaser Divers at 16/1. I hope he agrees with me – if you want to find out, check the blog on the Cartmel Racecourse website over the weekend.

You’ll be quite excited by Friday if those five have all won – so you might not feel up to watching Silviniaco Conti (4/1) in the Gold Cup, which would be a shame as I am sure he will win by a long way.

The total odds are 2,066,350 – 1.  But remember that the maximum pay-out is likely to a million, so you really only need to stake 50p. If you want you to stake a full pound, you can make your bet each-way; that way you’ll gain a consolation if they all finish second! If you’re as confident as I am, save the change for a bag of sweets.

And if I won a million? I’d like to visit a racecourse every day and spend my time talking about racing – so no change there then.