Thursday, 28 November 2013

Stopping Trains

The handicapping of horses is relatively simple; or at least the method of slowing them down is simple – we pack flat pieces of lead into a thin “satchel” that slips beneath the saddle, which we call a weight-cloth. 

There is an old saying in racing that “weight stops trains” and, as if proof were required, a recent item in the national media caught my eye: Kevin Chenais – who suffers from a hormone imbalance and weighs in at 500lb (nearly 36 stone) – was not allowed to board the Eurostar train that was intended to take him back to France. In fact the papers reported that he was also “too fat to fly”, suggesting that weight stops planes too, so it is little wonder that it stops horses. 

All of which is most relevant to this weekend’s feature race, The Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. Top-weight for the £175,000 handicap chase is Cape Tribulation who has a handicap rating of 158 and will carry 11st 12lb. The 132-rated Whodoyouthink, carries 26lb less, the minimum weight of 10st. In theory, all of the horses rated in-between have been given an equal chance and will pass the post in unison – by which I mean together, not members of a new equine trade union. The thing is of course, we know that won’t happen – so which of the 21 declared runners has managed to get away with an inadequate load? 

Starting with the horses with the lowest handicap ratings, I like Loch Ba who carries just 10st 1lb. He may have unfulfilled potential and he ran out of steam during a recent prep-run at Bangor on soft ground. He’ll be fitter for that run and I can imagine him fighting out the places at a big price.  

Also on my shortlist are Merry King (10st 8lb) and Invictus (10st 13lb). Both horses have shown promise, but Invictus is perhaps the most interesting as he has been off the track for nearly two years. When last seen, in his novice season, he comfortably conquered last year’s Hennessy winner (and Cheltenham Gold Cup hero) Bobs Worth - who is now officially rated 180. A strict interpretation of the form could leave Alan King’s charge more than 2 stone better off than the competition. 

Closer to the head of the weights, Prince de Beauchene (11st 9lb) and Lord Windermere (11st 8lb) are both high class performers with scope for improvement. Both are well fancied and will be among the favourites for the race. But the horse that I am going to recommend is not one of the young, unexposed, brigade...  

Imperial Commander is a 12-year-old, former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, who sustained a leg injury in 2011. He ran a blinder to finish a half-length second to Cape Tribulation on his return to action ten months ago, before being pulled up in a speculative attempt at the Grand National. At his peak he earned an official rating of 185 and sneaks into this race on a very generous mark of just 153, converting to a weight of 11st 7lb.  

In the absence of Kevin Chenais, who eventually made it home to France on a ferry and was reportedly unable to make the weight, Imperial Commander will be reunited with his Gold Cup winning jockey Paddy Brennan.

Win, lose or draw, Imperial Commander will be retired after the race on Saturday and so I’ll be backing him with my heart as well as my head.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Team That Brings Tears To My Eyes

If I’m looking a bit teary-eyed at the moment it’s not because Knockara Beau finished second at Cheltenham last Saturday; although he did run one of those heart-squelchingly, gutsy, races, where you really wish the stewards would just place him first. No, I’ve been peeling onions. 

Yes onions, because on Friday evening we’ll be welcoming around 110 members of our casual-staff for a party in the grandstand. They’ll be a bit of music, a drink or two, a lot of chat and some lasagne. That’s where the onions come in – there’s also garlic, salt, pepper, tomatoes, beef (supplied by Clare at Furness Fish, Poultry & Game Ltd – I know… they do beef too!), milk, flour and cheese.

If I’ve forgotten anything, perhaps you could let me know, as soon as possible, as the hunger of 110 people depends on this turning out alright. The alternative is crusty bread and butter. 

The annual get-together has added significance this year, because it is the final time that Dorothy Lodge will be attending in her role as Staff Manager – I hope she will continue to attend for many years as our “former Staff Manager”, racecard seller, litter picker, envelope stuffer or whatever else she feels like turning her hand to.

As long as her hand recovers that is; because this week she has been wearing it in a sling following an operation. Together with her husband, Bruce, they make quite a pair. He has only one hand, following a misunderstanding with a piece of agricultural equipment some years ago. They’re not a very good pair; between them they have  two left hands and no right ones at the moment – but they couldn’t be happier together, more congenial company or more dedicated to their work.

While Dorothy coordinates the race-day staff, Bruce supervises the public crossing point at the end of the finishing straight. During races he holds a broad white tape across the track in order to allow the horses with jockeys to pass one way and the ones without to pass the other. It’s a very important role, as you can be fairly sure that without him, most of the jockeys wouldn’t know which way to go. 

On one memorable occasion Bruce made a valiant attempt at catching a loose horse as it veered towards him and ended up lying on the grass. While Bruce got to his feet and the Clerk of the Course and I discussed the safety issues surrounding the incident, Dorothy summed up their joint commitment to Cartmel races – “At least he would have died doing something he loved” she said. 

If you think that I’ve just picked on a couple of "interesting" members of our race-day team for effect, you should meet the rest of them. I’ve always believed that if you want to run a racecourse with a bit of character, you have to employ a few. It’ll be a great party!

This weekend’s selections are Gevrey Chambertin (in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle, 2.25 Haydock - he's a full-brother to a previous winner of the race) and Silviniaco Conti (in the 3.00 at Haydock - a race he won last year).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Ten Horses, Four Hundred Thousand Pounds

Pick ten horses and win thousands of pounds – it sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?

Each year The Racing Post’s ten-to-follow competition starts just before the Cheltenham Open Meeting (this weekend) and finishes after the Grand National in April. The horses, in your fantasy stable, gather points throughout the season and there are bonus points for winning the major races. Points mean prizes and there will be at least £400,000 up for grabs. 

Having once made an entry which reached the top 100, in December 2011, I consider myself a bit of an expert. Yes – that’s the closest I’ve come to winning a prize and no, by the end of the season the same entry wasn’t even in the top 10,000. Anyway… it’s the taking part that counts. Here are my ten for the 2013 / 14 jumps season. 

At Fishers Cross. He’s the young pretender to the World Hurdle crown, won last year by Solwhit in the absence of the legendary Big Bucks. He’ll have the assistance on Tony McCoy in the saddle. 

Attaglance. There are bonus points for winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup this Saturday, in which Attaglance sneaks in on 10 stone. His jumping needs to improve, but even if he fails to pick up this valuable prize, he looks well handicapped for a profitable season ahead. 

Captain Chris. Trained by Philip Hobbs, he is sure to be aimed at the King George VI Chase in which he has previously finished third and second. I think that those at the head of the betting market have plenty of questions to answer and he has an outstanding chance this year. He could well pop up again in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. 

Colour Squadron. Another trained by Philip Hobbs, Colour Squadron is still classed as a novice over fences and could clock up a lengthy sequence of wins. However, he's also engaged in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him earn bonus points. 

First Lieutenant. Owned by the head of Ryanair, this horse missed the Gold Cup last year in favour of the Ryanair sponsored 2½ mile chase. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is this horse’s destiny - expect him to come to the fore in the Spring. 

Jezki. Like At Fishers Cross and Colour Squadron, Jezki is owned by J.P. McManus, famed for his massive tilts at the betting ring. Jezki will pick up several of Ireland’s top hurdle races before heading to Cheltenham for the Champion Hurdle in March. 

Lord Windermere. Yes, he is in the list because of his name! But the Jim Culloty trained chaser also won the RSA Novice's Chase last season and is being aimed at the Hennessy Gold Cup at the end of this month. He could be another for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. 

My Tent Or Yours. Yet another gelding owned by JP McManus; like Jezki he’ll be bound for the Champion Hurdle, but the difference is that he’s trained in England – so he can pick up a few of the trial races on this side of the Irish Channel before then. 

Sprinter Sacre. If you forget all the others, make a note of this horse’s name. Pegasus in disguise, his trainer nick-named him the “black aeroplane”, and he is the best two-mile chaser of this decade and probably any other decade. Tune in to Channel 4 Racing or RacingUK every time he runs and watch him fly! 

The New One. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, this is another gelding bound for the Champion Hurdle. He always gives his best and is sure to give you an excellent run for your money.

To make your entry go to: . There are 400 horses in the list to choose from, so you don't have to pick the same horses, although I think you'll find these are the best!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

16.29 Reasons to Celebrate McCoy

There are around 10,000 races in Britain each year, which makes you wonder why Tony McCoy has won only 4,000 in his entire career. What on earth has he been messing around at!

About 60% of those races are on the Flat; Tony McCoy rides over jumps, so I suppose that cuts it down a bit. Then of course there are several race-meetings taking place each afternoon and he can only be at one of them – unless he takes a helicopter from one track to another, which has been known. When he is at the racecourse, he rarely rides in every race either – it’s good to let the other jockeys have a chance. Besides, he might stand out a bit in one of those races for lady riders. 

In fact it turns out that Tony McCoy doesn’t even win every race he rides in – only one in every four. Next someone is going to tell me that this is an unpredictable sport where punters struggle to find winners, while bookmakers laugh into their deep satchels and the jockeys go home in ambulances. Oh that’s right, I forgot. Well anyway, despite that, I’ve a good feeling about Sa Suffit at Kelso on Saturday (2.15pm) – he hasn’t run for eighteen months and has had a change of trainer, but he used to be a favourite of mine – I’ll tell you whether he’s still a favourite on Sunday. 

If you’ve placed one pound on every horse that Tony McCoy has ridden at Cartmel during the last 5 years, you’ll be £16.29 better off than you were in 2008. However, if you’re one of those punters that has been backing him blind at all racecourses, you’ll have lost £444.96 during the same period – almost as bad as following the advice in this blog.

The moral of this story is that, if you’re one of McCoy’s fans, you should only come racing at Cartmel and, even then, you would be better off backing horses ridden by Lucy Alexander – who would have won you £86.13 for a regular one pound stake on all rides. 

Now that Tony McCoy has landed his 4,000th winner – a remarkable achievement which will probably never be surpassed - he should celebrate by going somewhere really special for dinner – like the restaurant at Miller Howe on the banks of Lake Windermere, one of our race sponsors in August this year.

The winner of the Miller Howe Handicap Steeplechase was ridden by Jamie Moore, but Tony shouldn’t hold that against them – I visited Miller Howe this week and enjoyed the best meal I’ve eaten in Cumbria. That’s saying something, given the local (Michelin starred) competition in Cartmel. At just £25 for a three course lunch, it was good value too – which may be important if you missed backing Mountain Tunes, the latest in a very very long line of McCoy winners.