Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The 2015 Punting Predictions

Happy New Year! Traditionally a time for committing to new resolutions, I’ve asked all my readers whether there is anything that I could try harder to achieve in 2015. Interestingly, you both said the same thing: Could I tip a few more winners?

So now seems as good a time as any to make a few predictions (or speculations) for 2015.

It’s Rugby World Cup year and it would be nice to think that England could win at home – but at 7/2 they don’t represent much value. You could have 300/1 about Scotland, but that’s totally unrealistic; there’s more chance that the Scots will provide the next Prime Minister, given that Ladbrokes quote Gordon Brown at only 100/1 for the job.  

But Gordon’s not even expected to line up for the race when the General Election takes place in May – which doesn’t say much for Scotland’s World Cup aspirations. In fact, on reflection, the odds quoted for the next Prime Minister are a little like those for the 2015 Gold Cup – in that I really don’t fancy any of the runners (fancy seems an inappropriate word here - but I guess it is accurate in any sense). Taking David Cameron out of the equation (as the incumbent), Ladbrokes offer 7/1 about Boris Johnson and 16/1 about Yvette Cooper. 

Alex Salmond isn’t quoted, which probably means he is 1,000-1 or more – about the same price as Elvis being discovered by the Rosetta space probe. It may seem far fetched, but some commentators believe that the SNP could form part of a new coalition Government. Elvis Presley or Alex Salmond as Prime Minister… 1000/1… hmmm. No, best to look elsewhere for our tip of the year. 

Prior to the election, I’m hoping that the politicians will have speeded through some legislation for a Racing Right – replacing the current Horseracing Betting Levy. It will have a major beneficial impact on the sport, but it will also cause a shake up in the betting industry. We should expect to see off-shore betting operators engage on more fronts with British customers – even on the highstreet, where betting shops have been under pressure from increased tax on gaming machines. Following this to its logical conclusion, doesn’t Ladbrokes look ripe for a city takeover? I think it's worth a small punt.  

Priced close to their 5-year low, at 114 pence per share, Ladbrokes’ value is about half what it was on 13th March 2013… Which, coincidentally, is when Sprinter Sacre won his first Champion Chase. Having been off the course for much of the time since, Sprinter Sacre is now 2/1 for the 2015 edition - having demonstrated his wellbeing in a recent schooling session at Newbury. There will be nothing to touch him at Cheltenham and 2/1 could look like exceedingly good value come March. 

In May, I expect Soul Magic to extend his record at Cartmel to eight wins – something no other horse has achieved. If not May, then the introduction of the new meeting in June affords Soul Magic an additional opportunity – with another coming in July, and another in August. Come on Soul Magic – you can do it! 

But to get the year started in the appropriate fashion, I’m going to suggest Aurore D’Estruval (in the listed mares’ race) at Sandown on Saturday. Good luck!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Five Tips for a Merry Christmas

I love Christmas but, as a heavenly host of TV chefs are fond of telling us, a little bit of preparation can make the holiday so much more enjoyable. So here are my top five tips for Christmas 2014:

1) While the devil makes his Christmas pie from lawyers tongues and clerk’s fingers (according to my book on ye olde business lore), I prefer pork. A reduced stock made from boiled pigs’ trotters makes a tasty jelly which will help to preserve the pie for a good week – although there’s not usually much left after breakfast on Christmas morning.

2) If you’ve made your pie and ordered your turkey, you might just have a little bit of space left in the fridge for some sweet Morcambe Bay Potted Shrimps – order them now from furnessfish.co.uk, the last day for dispatch is Monday 22nd December. While you’re about it you can order your Christmas pudding from The Cartmel Village Shop website – I couldn’t choose, so we’ve got Sticky Toffee Pudding, Sticky Figgy Pudding and the Cartmel Christmas Pudding. No danger of losing weight this month. 

3) If you’re spending yuletide with one or more girls aged under ten, then you need to know about the Disney Frozen Princesses: Elsa & Anna. If you haven’t bought the dolls yet then you’re probably too late and you’d better start praying that someone else has. Asda are selling a cardboard model of the Frozen Ice Palace (on offer at £16.97 – yes it really is made of cardboard) with a fiendishly awkward set of instructions. Requiring at least one cup of coffee and no more than two units of alcohol, the optimum time to tackle construction will be between 5.55am and 6.35am on Christmas morning. 

4) Look up the times of Church services well in advance, it’s always embarrassing to walk in half way through communion – especially if you’ve rushed your breakfast and dribbled pork jelly down your new Christmas jumper. At Cartmel Priory there is a service of nine lessons and carols at 6.30pm on Tuesday 23rd December, Christmas Eve services at 5.30pm and 11.30pm and Christmas Day services at 8.00am and 10.15am. 

5) Make sure that all your guests have gone by noon on Boxing Day so that you can settle down and enjoy the coverage of the racing from Kempton – unless of course you’re planning on attending one of the race-meetings at Wetherby, Huntingdon, Market Rasen, Towcester, Fontwell Park, Kempton, Wincanton, Sedgefield or Wolverhampton. I’ll be rooting for Wishfull Thinking in the King George VI Chase, unless he’s a non-runner in which case the race will be won by Champagne Fever.

...But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because this week’s selection is Activial – running at Ascot on Saturday.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Dear Mr Hobbs...

I am one of the horses in your yard – we know each other quite well, although you might be quite surprised that I’ve learnt how to write. While the newspapers call me Wishfull Thinking, my name is actually neighhphbraorrr (at least that’s a fair approximation - it’s easier to spell in Arabic than English). Did you know that I could write in Arabic too? 
The newspapers can be a bit mean – in the past they have used adjectives such as inconsistent and unreliable to describe my form, which implies that my heart isn’t always in the game. Nothing could be further from the truth – I appreciate that you already know this and you’ve kindly told them about my small wind problem (breathing, not digestion) and they now use terms such as “If he puts his best foot forward…” 
Anyway, there can be no doubt about my jumping. Okay, I did flatten that photographer at Cheltenham a while ago, but I’ve always been a tad vain and I just wanted to make sure that he had me in the frame – I was temporarily distracted; I won’t let it happen again. At Huntingdon last week I endeavoured to show the young whippersnappers how to leap with speed and accuracy. Although I say it myself, I don’t think there has been a better round of jumping since Desert Orchid won his first King George VI Chase. 
I’ll get to the point… You see I really want an opportunity to prove myself over 3 miles. Since the age of five I’ve been running over distances of 2 – 2½ miles. I bet you couldn’t run that far when you were 5 years old. Anyway, now that I’m nearly 12, I really think I should have another go over further – on a nice flat track, Kempton, preferably on Boxing Day, in the King George VI Chase.  
I know… I know – you’ve got Menorah and possibly Captain Chris to consider too. But Menorah told me he’d prefer to wait for faster ground and Chris has been enjoying his holidays – he’d be happy to wait a month longer. Honest. 
You might have a doubt in your mind about that day Unioniste passed me on the run-in at Aintree – when I had my one and only previous attempt over 3 miles. Forget it – I was a sitting target, I had streaked ahead in the straight and my wind just got the better of me again (breathing, not digestion – although those oats are quite gassy). 
You’ve got a lot to think about, especially with Cheltenham this weekend (where Jonathan has given Alan King’s Karezak as his selection on Saturday – doesn’t he know anything?); but please – let me have a spin in the King George. I might surprise a few people. I usually do. What’s so good about being predictable anyway? 
Wishfull Thinking*
* as imagined by Jonathan Garratt

Thursday, 4 December 2014

What George Osborne Didn't Say

Twice Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once said that "a canter is a cure for every evil." Winston Churchill said "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." This week George Osborne said… Um… Well, he didn’t say anything about horses actually.
But, hidden deep in the small print of the typed manuscript of his autumn statement was the following vital line, "The Government will consult on the introduction of a racing right in early 2015 and will announce a decision after consultation." The (non-verbal) comment made the headlines in just one newspaper: The Racing Post. The other national dailies curiously decided to ignore the story and instead focused their attention on other trivial matters such as the budget deficit and stamp duty cuts.
The introduction of a racing right, if successful, will allow horseracing to authorise all betting activity on the sport in return for a financial contribution from the betting operators. The system will replace the existing Horserace Betting Levy - which was instituted in 1961 for a betting industry which consisted of bricks and mortar in British high-streets. Having reached the digital era, the levy now contains more holes than an old fishing net, allowing betting companies to trade from various jurisdictions and in a variety of ways without contributing to the sport. The racing right should create a level playing field for betting operators and a more constructive relationship between the racing and betting industries.
By fixing the leakage, the sport will be better placed to fund prize money – the oil in the engine of racing, without which the constituent parts seize up and cease working together. Those readers familiar with the politics of horseracing will know the truth of this analogy – the sport consists of factions who, for good self-interested reasons, all have a view on prize funds. The racing right will help to reward racehorse owners and will therefore benefit trainers, Thoroughbred breeders, vets, farriers, feed suppliers and everyone who works in the equestrian supply chain. It will help to create jobs, particularly in rural areas.
Much of the money will flow through the racecourses. While it is unlikely to directly benefit the profitability of tracks, the racing right should improve the health of our industry – making the action more competitive and the spectacle exciting. It will help to develop and nurture young-stock. It will help Britain to compete on the world-stage, hang on to the best horses and attract competition from foreign shores. It will help us to spin better yarns - to add to the rich heritage of racing folklore that already exists.
Talking of folklore (in the sense that George Osborne was ‘talking’ about horseracing on Wednesday), Wishfull Thinking has three entries this weekend but seems most likely to run in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday. His stable-mate, Menorah, is preferred in the ante-post betting for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day but requires good ground. If Wishfull Thinking can win the Peterborough Chase on soft ground, his chances of finally getting to run in the race (which I have ‘wishfully thought’ to be his destiny to win) will improve dramatically. He can be backed at 100/1 or more for the King George on the exchanges.
This week’s selection is Third Intention, an under-rated challenger for the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday. From 14 starts over fences he’s been placed 12 times as well as registering a fifth and a sixth at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. At odds of around 20/1, he makes solid each way appeal.