Thursday 25 August 2011

Notes from York

The meeting opened with a typically competitive 5 furlong sprint handicap. The one to keep an eye on from this contest is RITUAL, trained by Jeremy Noseda. This previously progressive sprinter had looked likely to feature in the top sprint handicaps prior to a hugely disappointing display at Ascot. Subsequent tests showed him to be out of sorts for that race and his run at York had all the hallmarks of a horse being prepared for another day. He was slow leaving the gate and held up off the pace. Dettori produced him towards the stands side but was not at all hard on him in the closing stages, eventually finishing 8th of the 19 runners. It would not be at all surprising to see him contesting races like the Portland Handicap or Ayr Gold Cup later in the season.

The star performance of day 1 was undoubtedly that of SEA MOON who slammed the Voltigeur field by 8 lengths. Not surprisingly he was quickly installed at around 6-4 favourite for the St Leger but question marks remain. It has been argued that not all of the leading contenders could have run badly but Seville has had several tough assignments and Namibian ran no sort of race. With the likelihood of Blue Bunting and Census lining up at Doncaster you would not want to take too short a price, especially given the extra distance of the Leger.

Day 2 opened with a very interesting looking field for the Acomb Stakes and the one I liked from this was the Michael Stoute trained ZUMBI. Drawn wide in stall 11, Fallon took him into a prominent position on the heels of the leaders and he kept battling all the way to the line to finish a highly creditable third. I don’t know what Stoute’s running plans will be for him but he looked just the sort for a race like the Horris Hill at Newbury.

The one mile handicap could prove a useful race to follow. I was particularly taken with the game efforts of SMARTY SOCKS who was dropped in behind from a wide draw which meant having to make ground up the unfavoured inside of the track. He has been knocking on the door in these type of races so should have his day when everything drops right for him.

Similarly, PINTURA has been game and consistent and followed up a cracking effort at Goodwood with another solid run here. I’m sure Spencer hit the front sooner than he would have liked and he too was run out of it in the closing stages.

Sir Michael Stoute had the lightly-raced MARKAZZI representing him here and he ran creditably from a poor draw. Although he never quite landed a blow he looks like he is still developing and don’t be surprised if he picks up the winning thread soon.

The same stable were represented by TAZAHUM in the following days Strensall Stakes and he put his moderate Goodwood and Ascot form behind him when chasing home Green Destiny. Held up off a slow pace at Goodwood, he was given more freedom here and was allowed to bowl along in front after 2 furlongs. Predictably he couldn’t quicken at the end of the race but plugged on well enough and I think there is a nice race in him before the end of the year.

Saturday’s feature was the Ebor Handicap and LOST IN THE MOMENT, already featured in this blog, was eventually sent off favourite after see-sawing between 10-1 and 6-1. My reservations about him on this day were once again based on his draw, stall 21 with only Saptapadi on his outside. Dettori must have felt quite hopeful having won the previous two events and dropped him off the pace in the hope that he could make a steady run in the home straight. There seems no obvious reason why the best he could manage was only 7th place but the draw was a concern all week long and I’m sure that contributed to his downfall. Horses have found it nearly impossible to win from a wide draw, dropping in off the pace and then making ground on the inside up the straight. This horse has now shown his versatility from 1m 2f to 2 miles so it will be interesting to see what Godolphin do with him now. It would not be a complete surprise if he is talked of as a possible for the elusive Melbourne Cup.

Monday 15 August 2011

For the National Hunt enthusiasts out there!

The Grand National 2011 - Reflections and early thoughts on the 2012 renewal

The Grand National 2011 was won by Ballabriggs to give Donald McCain his first win in the big race and follow in the footsteps of his father, Ginger, who famously trained Red Rum to three Aintree successes. Ballabriggs had looked a live contender for Aintree from the moment he showed his relentless jumping and staying qualities when powering to success at the Cheltenham festival the previous season and his campaign was always going to be geared towards the National. He is understandably listed at the head of the bookmakers market for the 2012 race at around 16-1 but there should be a word of caution. He will be 11 years of age and will almost certainly be asked to shoulder a stiff penalty for his success. On the plus side he has not had a lot of racing and Don't Push It carried his 11st 10lb burden into a gallant third place last season showing that it is not impossible. 2010 winner Don't Push It, who ended Tony McCoy's long wait for victory in steeplechasing's showpiece event, will again be popular but he will be 12 years of age and you would imagine something else might be coming through the ranks from the A P McManus, Jonjo O'Neill combination with better prospects.

Sandwiched between the pair was the gallant runner-up Oscar Time who so nearly gave amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen the classic double of Cheltenham Gold Cup and National in the same season. This came in the wake of some controversy as to whether he was the best choice for the ride on Long Run but he silenced the doubters in the best possible way. Oscar Time, the same age as the winner, is also rated a leading fancy to go one better in 2012 and he can be backed at around 20-1. You would imagine there will only be one race in mind for connections and, given a reasonable weight pull with Ballabriggs, you certainly could not dismiss his chance.

It is always wise to look down the list of National runners for those gaining valuable experience of Aintree who could come back to challenge the following season. The Midnight Club was sent off favourite but a mistake at the third put him back in the field and he was always struggling thereafter. Silver By Nature had been touted as a live contender from Scotland after an impressive trial but ran disappointingly for Lucinda Russell's stable. It may have been that the going was just too quick for him and you wouldn't rule out a return to form and a far more prominent showing if he got his favoured softer surface. He rates a 40-1 chance in the ante-post lists and will be one to keep an eye on when the new season gets into it's stride this winter.

Another who likes to get his toe in is the 2011 Welsh National winner Synchronised. He couldn't quite repeat his Midlands National win of the previous season and signed off disappointingly when pulled up in the Irish National but he will be similarly campaigned and rates a 40-1 outsider for Aintree.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls will be desperate to add the National to his CV and will have a plethora of entries. Perhaps the most notable would be Mon Parrain who jumped Aintree like a stag only to be outrun in the John Smith's. He will only be 6 years of age next season so it was a remarkable run and, if his trainer decides on the National route for this promising young chaser, you could see 40-1 being a good early investment. There is talk of Denman possibly running in the National next year but it is very difficult for owners to risk their battle-hardened heroes at Aintree under a big weight with their huge public following and I cannot see them taking the risk.

There will of course be many twists and turns in the build up to Aintree as the new season unfolds but as a first speculative investment I will side with Mon Parrain with 1pt each-way at 40-1. Whether or not he makes it to Aintree he will surely be an exciting horse to follow in 2011-12.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Lost in the Moment

Every now and then a horse comes along that you cannot help but follow with special interest. It may start with just picking something out as having been unlucky in a race, so you back it next time and it's unlucky again. Now you are in trouble because you just know that if you don't back it next time it will definitely win. So, you tell yourself to keep faith and in you go again.

I am in just such a position with the Godolphin horse, Lost in the Moment. I first noticed this horse running a blinder at Royal Ascot when just run down by the quirky Beachfire. Much of the attention was on the hot favourite Green Destiny who finished down the field but to my eyes Lost in the Moment did nothing wrong and was just outpaced in the closing stages.

So, on to York and a highly competitive Ebor trial. The bookies quoting Lost in the Moment at 14-1 had me tempted. Yes, he had a rotten draw which I should know from painful experience that Pegasus would struggle to overcome, but each-way surely. Sure enough, stuck at the back after the wide draw, no chance from a mile out. But, wait a minute, bit by bit he starts picking off the stragglers until he gets trapped behind a wall of runners coming up the stands rail and in the end finishes without having had a race just nabbing a place.

I make a mental note for the Ebor and sit back waiting for the weights to be announced and the ante-post lists to appear. He gets a fair weight but could end up at the top if a few drop out, no odds given yet and I'm cautious because Godolphin are notoriously difficult to second-guess with their running plans.

Then I check the card for the Goodwood Cup and there he is....going up the best part of a mile in distance! Hmm...a dilemma. The experts said he was doubtful for the Ebor trip, now he's running over further? Do I start studying his pedigree, the dosage index and heaven knows what else? He's down as the second string for Godolphin with William Buick riding but odds as big as 22-1! Yes, I have to have another punt don't I. His odds are cut in half before the start of the race so I'm not the only one following him and off they go. Held up. One of the worst phrases to hear when you have backed a horse is "held up to get the trip". I'm no jockey but holding up a horse does not make it stay the trip. Yes, you can preserve it's finishing kick (if it has one) but you cannot make a non-stayer stay by asking it to make up 20 lengths in the straight.

Anyway, turning for home and he's still going easily and starting to pick his way through. Dettori goes wider on the Godolphin favourite Opinion Poll at the same time and, you guessed it, Lost in the Moment gets stuck in traffic, not once but twice! Meanwhile Dettori's run takes him through to the front and the gallant late run of Lost in the Moment is never going to be closer than an "unlucky" second. He's going two strides to the winners one after the line and looks like he would stay another 6 furlongs if needed but of course it's too late. I cringe whilst Dettori does his "number 1" salute and think to myself, what odds now for the Ebor? Well, the answer is now 7-1 favourite. Am I going to follow him again? You bet I will!

Barry Hills announces retirement

This week it was announced that Barry Hills was "retiring"  from his training career at the age of 74 and handing over the reins to his son Charlie. With nearly 3,200 winners and 11 classics under his belt, the figures speak for themselves. As with the Balding dynasty, the natural progression from father to son will mean it should be "business as usual" but for punters it's never quite the same.

My first recollections of Barry Hills was seeing the famous Robert Sangster silks being carried around Chester by then-stable-jockey Ernie Johnson. These were changing times as Sangster and his associates started to take a grip on the racing scene which was not seriously challenged until Sheikh Mohammed arrived on the scene. Sangster was a great belief in racing being an international sport and, to this end, he was influential in bringing over the great Willie Shoemaker to ride Hawaiian Sound, trained by Hills, who went down narrowly to Shirley Heights in the Epsom Derby. But my fascination with the Barry Hills stable did not really take off until it was announced that Sangster and his cohorts were bringing over "The Kentucky Kid", an american phenomenon, to ride for the Hills stable. There was a great deal of anticipation as the press and punters waited to see if Steve Cauthen could do over here what he done in the States and they did not have to wait long to find out. Riding Marquee Universal for Hills at Salisbury, he rode straight into the winners enclosure and never really looked back.

I enjoy reading the comments of punters when these big names leave the training ranks because everyone has their own particular memory - Maybe a classic winner they backed or maybe a 25-1 winner of a humble selling race! Not that Hills has had many runners in sellers over the years ( Please don't ask me to look that one up!). My own favourites were Tap On Wood (2,000 Guineas), Motavato (Free Handicap), Kind of Hush (Craven), Arapahos (Chester Cup) and Gildoran (Ascot Gold Cup). The latter was a game winner at Ascot following a mighty run under top weight in the Chester Cup and was ridden by another "imported" Sangster jockey, Australian Brent Thomson. It no longer seems to have quite the same impact when the top international jockeys come over but at the time it was akin to the first big international football stars joining the old division one. Of all his winners the horse that had the biggest public following was undoubtely Further Flight, the gallant grey stayer who recorded an incredible five victories in the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket.

As Barry Hills moves aside the spotlight falls on Charlie, no doubt born and bred for the job. We watch with interest to see if he is able to establish himself and keep the Hills name firmly at the top of the training ranks where it has been since 1970.

Welcome to our new blog!

Hello and welcome to our new Racing Bookshop blog. If you are one of the first to visit and find "not a lot" please excuse us as I am only setting it up today. We had some encouraging responses to our monthly newsletter so have decided to expand it into a regular blog for all our news, updates, special offers, reviews and racing chat. I intend to feature all of the above and will be guided by your responses.

If you are new to Racing Bookshop altogether let me introduce ourselves. We run an online horse racing specialist bookshop based in south west Scotland, but we do not stop there. We also buy and sell photographs, racecards, prints and all kinds of memorabilia. We have been running our live online auctions through ebid for several years and now have between 2 and 3 thousand items listed! We also offer original artwork and a free search facility for those trying to find information/photos of their ex-racehorse.

Alongside the bookshop I also hope to create some debate (or amusement!) with my view of the horse racing scene and I will of course welcome your contributions. So, if you feel we have some common ground, then please sign up to our blog and I look forward to exchanging news and views in the coming months.